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The Best Job Search Strategy That Goes Beyond an Incredible Cover Letter

The Best Job Search Strategy That Goes Beyond an Incredible Cover Letter
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There are few endeavors as stressful and confidence crushing as searching for work. You may find yourself spending hours looking for the right job, spend even more hours perfecting your CV and cover letter, then never hear back. Or if you do hear back its a rejection. In the end you feel like Sisyphus, spending your days pushing a boulder uphill, only for it to roll right back down immediately after. It can be soul destroying.

Some people may make things even more difficult for themselves by only applying to a small number of jobs at a time and then passively wait. This problem can be made much worse by key information, like how much competition there is for the job, or exactly what the employers are looking for, being hard to find.

The difficulties never stop, even at the beginning when writing up your CV and cover letter. I remember I spent a long time once, just trying to figure out the best cover letter format to use.

Surely, there must be more information, or other strategies out there, I thought.

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The template-like cover letter is too average to stand out in the job market.

Little did I know at the time, but there is a very specific art to writing cover letters, and once learned, my cover letters, and my job prospects increased dramatically.

A lot of us tend to write similar cover letters. We try to use a “one size fits all” policy, where our cover letters are adapted for each job, but generally relay the same information in a similar way. This is easy for us, but this strategy is unhelpful when we consider the job market as it truly is, and how to best write for it.

What is little known, is that there are actually three different kinds of cover letters…

The different kinds of cover letters are: invited cover letters, closed cover letters, and referral cover letters[1].

The first of the three are the kind you will likely be most familiar with:

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1. Invited cover letter: a direct response to a job ad.

They tend to be the easiest to write as the job advert may have given you some indication on what to cover. You need to provide accurate and detailed information about relevant experience and knowledge that you have[2], and explain how this experience and knowledge makes you a good fit for the job and the company.

Extensive research into the company and its rivals is vital[3], this will show that you have carefully taken your time to write the cover letter and are passionate about the company.
These forms of applications and job postings actually represent the minority of available jobs to apply for. Roughly only 20% of job postings are publicly known and advertised.

To nail it:

  • Take time to find out who the hiring manager is (it should say somewhere in the job posting). If you can’t find a name write something like ” Dear sir/madam” it should be pretty personal. Likewise tailor your letter for the company.
  • Make sure you write down exactly what job you are applying for in the letter. Many people send exactly the same cover letter to different companies, and for different jobs. The hiring manager will be able to tell if this is what you did, and would think you don’t care about the job. Instant rejection.
  • Be relatively brief and succinct, the whole cover letter should be no bigger than a normal A4 piece of paper, so only write relevant experience and tie it to the job. Make yourself seem like the only person in the world who will be able to do the job as well as you can.
  • Proof read your work, put it aside, then proof it again, then have a friend go through it. If your letter is full of mistakes it will reflect badly on you. Basically, don’t do what I did once, and send a badly written, mistake filled cover letter for a job that requires you to write well.

2. Closed cover letter: for jobs that are “hidden”.

The invisible 80% available jobs are the “closed” section of the job market. These jobs there will be considerably less demand and competition for as they are so much harder to find. To apply for these jobs, you need to contact companies and employers directly and ask if there are any positions available.

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It is far cheaper and easier for companies to recruit internally or through people already on their radar[4]. When companies put time, effort and money into posting a job advert, this can imply that they are having trouble filling an open position, not just that there is a position available.

Therefore its important for you to become known to the company, you need to send a speculative cover letter. Unlike with invited cover letters, closed cover letters aren’t tailored to a specific job or role in the company as its likely you won’t know if there is such a role or position in the company which needs to be filled. Though it is important to give the company and the employer some indication of what your skills are and what you are best suited for.

These cover letters and applications are often sent in cold, without knowledge if the company is hiring or what positions are available. However, you’re lucky you may know someone in the company who can give you some indication of what jobs are available. In which case you need to write a referral cover letter.

To nail it:

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  • Unlike the invited cover letter, closed cover letters may be kept on file until a suitable position appears. This is important to consider when you are writing your cover letter.
    As I mentioned earlier, you don’t need to tie your skill set for a specific job, but you should still indicate what kind of roles you are after.
  • Instead of explaining why you are applying for a specific job, explain why you are applying for a relevant job in that specific company. Explain what you like about it, why you want to be a part of it, and why they should hire you.
    Research all you can about the company and relate your experience and passions to that research.

3. Referral cover letter: you need great networking for this.

They are much more rare, and are usually the product of careful networking. Here, in the cover letter you mention the name of someone the prospective employer knows, someone who directly referred you to the company and the job. The benefit of this is twofold, firstly, mentioning the name of someone will be so unexpected it will draw the employer’s attention further, and secondly, if the person referenced is a person the employer respects, then you are providing good evidence for your skill and character.

Behind the scenes, the person who referred you to the position or the company may also be fighting your corner, making yourself further known to the company.

To nail it:

  • If you are lucky enough to have a friend who is respected in the company, then this should be easy. Merely talk to them about job postings and then write either a invited cover letter or closed cover letter, mentioning their name and recommendation for the job. Be sure to emphasize it.
  • It is really only worth mentioning the person if they are a respected member of the company and they are semi relevant to where you are applying. For example, if you want to work for a huge company like Apple as an engineer, there is little need mentioning your friend who is a clerk in an apple store.
  • If you don’t know anyone relevant, spend your time networking. Social network sites are a revolutionary tool for this. Slowly make yourself (positively) known to the company and its staff from the outside.

To get the job you want, go beyond putting information into a cover letter template.

Identify the potential opportunities and work on a few tailor-made cover letters that can increase the chance of getting your dream job. Filling your information in a template just doesn’t work when it comes to making your cover letter stand out from others!

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Remember, you’re not the only person competing in the job market, there’re a lot more talented candidates out there who may actually be very competitive for plenty of jobs. So don’t just send out one to two job applications, send out a lot of them!

Reference

More by this author

Arthur Peirce

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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