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Your Cover Letter Didn’t Bore the Employer, You Did

Your Cover Letter Didn’t Bore the Employer, You Did

If you’ve been playing the job search game long enough, you know what a hassle crafting the perfect cover letter can become. From writing content that demands attention to formatting and editing, it’s a lot of work to put into something that most recruiters only spend about six seconds reviewing.[1] But as the first thing a recruiter may see, your cover letter provides your first (and sometimes only) shot at selling yourself well enough to warrant giving your resume a glance over.

The Common Pitfalls of Traditional Cover Letters

Even all-star candidates sometimes find it difficult to write cover letters. What do you include? How long should it be? To whom should you address it? The answers to these questions could well vary between jobs, companies, and industries, which means you have to do a little extra homework to find which techniques will work best for your own situation.

Other common cover letter mistakes include

  • Focusing too much on your own achievements
  • Sharing the details of every single job
  • Sounding too trite or colloquial
  • Including misspellings and grammar mistakes
  • Coming across as a superfan of the company applied to
  • Writing too much
  • Talking about something uncomfortable, such as reasons why you were fired from a previous job
  • Summarizing your resume

To add to the struggle of writing a noteworthy cover letter, there’s the extra task of tailoring it to for each job and company you apply to. Companies don’t want a generic anybody-could-write-this-for-any-job letter or resume. Using a letter that reads as a fill-in-the-blank prototype doesn’t give a good first impression about your work abilities and ambition.

Why a Strong Cover Letter Matters

Studies show that 90% of hiring managers don’t read cover letters, 97% make a hiring decision based solely off the resume, but nearly 53% of employers prefer candidates that provide a cover letter.

So why does a cover letter even matter if no one is going to read it (or at least read it entirely)?

It proves that you can follow directions.

One, if an employer asks for a cover letter, it shows you can follow directions. You don’t want to sabotage your chances of getting the job by not following each required step, regardless of whether you think the inclusion of a cover letter is important or not.

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It ensures you appear at your best.

Two, when you submit a cover letter, you don’t know if it will be read or not. Cover letters might rank higher in prioritization for some HR departments than others, and putting forth your best effort regardless of whether it will be read can ensure you put your best foot forward – just in case.

It helps you stand out from the pack.

And three, if you can write a strong cover letter (something that many people find difficult), you can use it as a competitive advantage to put you above other applicants. It’s one chance to stand out from the pack, and you should take as many of those chances as you can get.

How to Write a Stand Out Cover Letter

The good news is that you don’t have to be an expert writer to to put together a professional-looking cover letter that will warrant more than just a glance. Take a look at this cover letter format guide that can help transform your cover letter into one that recruiters will want to read:

Avoid colloquialisms.

If you use To Whom It May Concern to begin your cover letter, stop. This antiquated salutation relays two ideas:

First, that you aren’t creative enough to break outside of the same greeting that nearly everyone uses.

And second, that you have no clue who you are addressing and didn’t take the time to find out.

You might think this bland, generic, gender-free salutation is a safe bet. It’s not. If, after some effort, you are not sure who will be reading your cover letter, try using something like Hi [company name]’s recruiting team. Even this simple bit of personalization with the company’s name can help your letter shine a little brighter.

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Other common colloquialisms include “I’d like to apply for…” or “I hope to hear back from you soon.” The recruiter probably knows these things, so you don’t need to include them. Instead, focus on using your cover letter real estate space more effectively by filling it with value, rather that the elements that you think should be there because other peoples’ cover letters have them.

Focus on how your experience will benefit the company.

Oftentimes people spend too much time talking about what they achieved in previous jobs, but they fail to convey how those experiences can potentially benefit the company they are applying at.

Granted, you do need to divulge a little about yourself in your cover letter. But make sure that whatever you decide to talk about ultimately connects to how your talents will be useful within the role you hope to get.

Keep it short and simple.

Given that most recruiters won’t even look at your cover letter, there’s no need to engage in a retelling of your entire job history. Many people think the cover letter should summarize your resume, but this simply isn’t the case. Your resume is the place for you to dive deep into your work history, so you don’t need to rehash it in your cover letter.

Instead, try and focus on a couple standout achievements from your previous jobs, then relate how those specific achievements could prove useful in the position you are applying for.

Also, try to limit your cover letter to a few paragraphs, not including the salutation or closing. Your cover letter should definitely be no more than a page, but it should also be long enough to explain why you’d make the best fit for the position.

Proofread your cover letter (for at least 2 times).

If your cover letter is read (despite the odds against it), you don’t want to have it full of misspellings and grammar errors. This indicates sloppiness and lack of attention to detail, both of which might tell the recruiter what kind of a worker you would be if hired.

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Your safest option is to have someone else review your finished cover letter for typos and errors before you send it in. You can also use a tool like the Grammarly plugin that can help catch minor mistakes.

Here’s what a good cover letter looks like:

1. Must-have Elements for Printed Cover Letter (in order)

Your contact information
Name
Address
City, State, ZIP
Phone Number
Email Address
Their contact information (if you have it)

Name
Title
Company
Address
City, State, ZIP

Salutation

  • First Paragraph – your overall objective and purpose
  • Middle Paragraph(s) – what you can offer the employer if hired. Include how your achievements relate to the position you are applying for.
  • Last Paragraph – Conclusion and thank you for their consideration

Closing – examples are Regards, Best, Cheers, Respectfully Yours, etc.

Signature – this should be handwritten

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2. Must-have Elements for an Email Cover Letter (in order)

Subject Line

Salutation

  • First Paragraph – your overall objective and purpose
  • Middle Paragraph(s) – what you can offer the employer if hired. Include how your achievements relate to the position you are applying for.
  • Last Paragraph – Conclusion and thank you for their consideration

Closing – examples are Regards, Best, Cheers, Respectfully Yours, etc.

Signature

Cover letter writing can seem daunting for many people, but understanding the right format and the must-have elements can help relieve some stress.

Reference

[1] Undercover Recruiter: How Long Do Recruiters Spend Reading Your CV?

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Alli Hill

Freelance Writer and Marketing Consultant

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Last Updated on February 18, 2019

How to Motivate Employees and Boost Team Productivity

How to Motivate Employees and Boost Team Productivity

These days, in a world with cognitive, AI, and extraordinary advances, we have failed at the most basic stimulus: motivation. Why do I say so? Just take a look at these statistics:

58 percent of managers said they didn’t receive any management training as per a CareerBuilder.com survey. Only 12% of employees leave their jobs because of more money. Research indicates that around 80% of employees leave their jobs due to “lack of appreciation”. Due to fear of failing, more than half of American workers don’t take their paid vacations. 53% of Americans are unhappy at work (not engaged). And 1 in 3 are working in a field they don’t like.[1]

Archaic people management and HR structures are the root cause.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

So how to motivate employees and boost team productivity?

Here are 3 key things that you can do to motivate your employees and boost team productivity:

1. Run Your Team/Group/Company like a Lean Startup

The Lean Startup phenomena by Eric Ries has been socialized across millions all over the globe. In a nutshell, it is a methodology for developing businesses and products, which aims to shorten product development cycles and rapidly discover if a proposed business model is viable; this is achieved by adopting a combination of business-hypothesis-driven experimentation, iterative product releases, and validated learning.[2]

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Encourage Your Employees

When you empower your employees (or family members) to do what they deem to be best for a particular roadblock, idea, or improvement, you create magic. You create genuine trust. You enable innovation. The result is happy, inspired employees who feel they have a say in the grand cosmic stage at work.

Note that increasing the competency level of employees and coaching and mentoring them along the way is key. You yourself, need to do the same. Nourish your brain – and get a mentor that will keep you at the edge of your game.

Offer Rewards

Motivation is also intrinsic. The startups I have worked at offered instant rewards — not just fat checks or equity increments, but Oscar-style nominations.

The non-monetary rewards were actually more coveted, and grandiose: lunch with the CEO, tickets to an Obama fund-raiser, horse-back riding with a world-class equestrian.

Compare this to a dodgy, corporate, white-cubicle dinosaur that had a “yearly performance review” where both parties dread the conversation. In a world of instant WhatsApp messages, having a conversation about performance, likes and dislikes cannot just happen annually in 60 minutes. Employees need to be rooted in the belief that their manager genuinely cares about them.

Give Autonomy

Another key attribute is autonomy. Most employees start brushing their resumes and cruising LinkedIn when their hands are tied in their current positions: approval forms, long meetings, escalations, and more meetings. In the world of agile and scrum masters, deliberating for the sake of deliberating is poison. You will choke the very employees that giddily accepted the job initially to “change the world”.

Within a reasonable realm of assessment and deep-dives, trust your employees to do the heavy lifting. Give them access to the knowledge, people and resources that help them directly make the choices that will shape the future of your team, and your company.

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Eliminate yourself as the bottleneck – and interject yourself as a benevolent, servant leader that is the symbol of high-performing organizations.

2. Apply the 90/90/1 Rule

I recently saw a video by Deepak Sharma (a leadership adviser) about productivity and this principle stuck with me. Here’s what it’s about:

Devote the First 90 Minutes of Your Day to Important Project

For the next 90 days, devote the first 90 minutes of your day to your most important project—nothing else. Do this for yourself and your employees.

We usually get sucked into the most wasteful, operational activities in the morning which robs our focus, and steers us into an unwanted rabbit hole. So mute your notifications, avoid the temptation to check your exploding inbox, and scroll your Instagram feed later. Instead, focus on that ONE thing that will provide real value to you, your team, or your business/company/home.

Apply this rule to yourself – and your team. Your team will thank you. Note: If you’re feeling really stretched for time, you can always hack the rule by testing out a “45/45/1” version.

A To Do Scheduling System

Another version of this is to use the Kanban concept, developed by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota. Kanban is a scheduling system employing boards and cards.

The most basic version is a canvas with “To-do”, “Doing”, and “Done” boards (or columns). Each activity or task is a “card” that moves from one column to the other. I use Trello (a Kanban-inspired app) that is a key system for my personal and professional life. It allows me to understand my workload, their priority, and due dates.

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I use importance and effort metrics (scores) for each task to understand what is truly necessary in my life to work on. It negates the FIFO (first-in, first out) paradox that has plagued millions of people. Instead, it allows me to take stock of what is on my plate, and then bite on what truly will move the needle for me, my team, my life, and my company.

With a limited appetite (at least for some), would you eat the veggies, fries, mashed potatoes and leave the sizzling steak? No, you wouldn’t (unless you are a vegan and ended up in the wrong restaurant).

Approach your work with a weighted vengeance – and encourage your team to do the same.

3. Align Passion and Skills to Purpose

The heart of human excellence often begins to beat when you discover a pursuit that absorbs you, frees you, challenges you, and gives you a sense of meaning, joy and passion.

“The most fortunate people on earth are those who have found a calling that’s bigger than they are—that moves them and fills their lives with constant passion, aliveness, and growth.” — Richard Leider

An ace team-member once told me that while she enjoys working for the company we both used to work at, she really hated anything to do with technology. She was more of a “people” person, and did not want to sit behind a desk sifting through lines of code.

What struck me was that she was in that role for more than a decade and had just spoken up. The good thing is she spoke up. She expressed her desire and interests. And it allowed her to get into a role of her liking within 30 days.

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Ask If They like What They’re Doing

If you, or a team member is frustrated, demotivated, or not performing at their best – one of the questions you should ask is whether they like what they are doing. Then genuinely try to help them get to the role they should be in (whether in the same team/company or not).

There’s a reason why 53% of Americans (and perhaps more or same across the globe) are unhappy at work. A butcher cannot be an ace salad maker. Pursue your passion – and help pave the way for your team. Unlock your potential and theirs. You will command and lead a supercharged team.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

The Bottom Line

Sometimes, passion has to be ignited. It is dormant, clouded by busy-ness, buried by wrong career choices, and plagued by non-supportive eco-systems. Some will climb out of it, but we as society — and in the case of business teams — incumbent upon the manager/CEO/leader to foster, grow, and nurture the employee.

Teach her the ropes. Show her the path. Advise him as you would yourself. Let them lead, and make mistakes. Do not fear them, rather make them the leader you would want to become.

For your not-so-great team members, understand that it is not personal, it is just not a good fit. Help them move on to the pastures they would be fit to graze on. Hence, hire slow (and fire fast).

Your team is a reflection of you. Boosting their confidence and helping them achieve the impossible is motivation. Focus on that, and you will have a productive team that you and your company will be proud of.

More Resources About Team Management

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

Reference

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