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I’ve Read More Than 500 Cover Letters and Here’s What I’ve Spotted

I’ve Read More Than 500 Cover Letters and Here’s What I’ve Spotted

There are about 3.69 million results on a Google search for “cover letter template,” which isn’t surprising. Many are concerned with making sure they have the right cover letter format, so they go searching for a template.

Here’s the problem with that approach: by definition, a template (especially those residing on Page 1 of Google’s search results) is something that thousands of people are using. This cannot stand out from others. Your cover letter begins from a very average place.

The average number of applicants to a job these days is 59,[1] with most jobs receiving far more. Recruiters and hiring managers simply don’t have the time to go through 60+ resumes and cover letters thoroughly without sacrificing many other priorities during the day.

A good, interesting cover letter — especially one that hooks the reader immediately — can be a huge difference in getting you a job. A generic cover letter on the same template the recruiter just saw 50 other times? No.

When we discuss cover letter format, then, let’s shift the focus to how to make yourself stand out as a candidate via your cover letter.

Make It Personal (Like You Know the Hiring Person)

This is actually much easier in the modern age, because you can use LinkedIn often to find the specific hiring manager for the position. For example, a writer job may report to a marketing or content marketing manager, and a design job might report to a marketing manager or Chief Designer. Once you know the hiring manager, you can personalize the cover letter format pretty easily:

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  • No sir/madam; use the name.
  • Look at their career arc and mention one commonality between theirs and yours.
  • Mention one skill or concept you think you could learn from them.

Now the cover letter is directed at one person and wholly personal. This is a great first step.

If you can, look up potential pain points for the employer online. Some sources are Google News, Seeking Alpha, The Wall Street Journal, and other financial sources. If you’ve determined the biggest problems they face and you have a few sentences about how your role could solve them, that might endear your candidacy to them.

Narrate Your Story

Nothing resonates for the human brain like stories. Tell a great one here — especially given the time constraints for a hiring manager to read all these letters. Some tips:

  • Use the inverted pyramid approach and put the most important information first.
  • Assume that with every additional word, the chances of the hiring manager continuing to read it declines. You can assume that because it’s been proven by research.[2]

A good story-driven intro might go something like this:

Hi Mr. Peterson,

I saw that you were a river guide for a while in your 20s. I was also for three years and a near-death experience I had with a group from a corporate retreat changed everything for me about how I considered my career arc.

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Mr. Peterson is likely to keep reading. The story has hooked him.

Play up Your Connection with the Company

This is where your research (LinkedIn and otherwise) comes into play. You need to convey why working for that specific company is important to you, not just the concept of having a job. The goal is to build emotional attachment based on the research you did. Here’s an example:

Hi Mr. Smith,

My dad always told me his best experiences were in family-owned businesses, so I’ve been gravitating towards those in my recent search. I discovered how many awards your team has won, including the 2017 Best Business award for the metro area, and I began doing additional research on your culture. It seems fantastic, especially that part about company-wide data accountability and bonding “color days.” I’ve been searching for a great fit like this since those long conversations about being a male and career-building with my dad, and your approach seems excellent. I’d love to show you why I’m the best candidate here.

This references research, shows you care about the company, and plays to the ego of those already inside the company. It’s a triple win!

Focus on 3 Attributes Only

When the iPhone first came out, there were over 200 features. Steve Jobs could have discussed them all in that famous opening press event. He discussed seven only. If he had discussed 200+, the event would have taken forever and no one would remember the key elements.

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You don’t need seven features for a cover letter, but picking three attributes is usually a good start. It may look something like this:

I believe I can add value in this role in three specific ways, namely advanced data analysis, communication and presentation of that data to senior leadership, and project management around the initial stages of transferring what the data says into a direct action plan. I’ve been working in the data context space for six years, and some examples of my biggest projects include…

The letter/section would go on, but the important point is that you specifically defined your value adds. The experiences underscoring those value adds comes next.

At this point, the optimal cover letter format focuses on:

  • Emotions
  • Stories
  • Personal context
  • Background research
  • Defining your value-add
  • Friendly tone

And now, let’s get to some more logistics.

Make It Easy-To-Read

This means font (Arial, Courier New, Times New Roman, etc.) and size (usually 12-14). Use standard margins. It should be one page or shorter, and save it (as with your resume) as a PDF instead of a MS Word file, which can look different across different devices.[3]

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Also make sure it’s clearly labeled as the cover letter, as oftentimes you’ll send as attachments with the resume. While this may seem minor, confusing a recruiter or hiring manager for even a few seconds could get your cover letter tossed.

The baseline: no mistakes. Avoid typos, run-on sentences, poor grammar, or misspellings (especially of the company or hiring manager’s name). This is a baseline that will get any cover letter tossed aside. Proofread it and make sure you run it through a spell check process.

The Bottom Line on Cover Letter Format

As the number of applications to a standard position rises, you have to make your cover letter stand out. An impressive cover letter will get you through those top of funnel hiring stages and onward to an interview with the hiring manager.

Your cover letter format is less about the exact best template and more about the story you convey. That’s going to push the door further open in the hiring process.

Reference

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Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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Last Updated on March 15, 2019

How to Be a Leader Who Is Inspiring and Influential

How to Be a Leader Who Is Inspiring and Influential

When I began managing people 15 years ago, I thought having a fancy title was synonymous with influence. Over time, I learned that power is conferred based on likeability, authenticity, courage, relationships and consistent behavior. When leaders cultivate these attributes, they earn power, which really means influence.

Understanding influence is essential to professional growth, and companies rise and fall based on the quality of their leadership.

In this article, we will look into the essentials of effective leadership and how to be a leader who is inspiring and influential.

What Makes a Leader Fail?

A host of factors influence a leader’s ability to succeed. To the extent that leaders fail to outline a compelling vision and strategy, they risk losing the trust and confidence of their teams. Employees want to know where a company is going and the strategy for how they will get there. Having this information enables employees to feel safe, and it allows them to see mistakes as part of the learning journey versus as fatal occurrences.

If employees and customers do not believe a company’s leadership is authentic and inspiring, they may disengage, or they may be less inclined to offer constructive criticism that can help a company innovate or help a leader improve.

And it is not just the leadership at the top that matters. Middle managers play a distinct role in guiding teams. Depending on the company’s size, employees may have more access to mid-level managers than they do members of the C-suite, meaning their supervisors and managers have greater influence on the employee and the customer experience.

What Is Effective Leadership?

Effective leadership is inspiring, and it is influential. Cultivating inspiring and influential leaders requires building relationships across the company.

Leaders must be connected to both the teams they lead as well as to their own colleagues and managers. This is key as titles do not make a person a leader, nor do they automatically confer influence. These are earned through trusting relationships. This explains why some leaders can get more out of their teams than others and why some leaders experience soaring profits and engagement while others sizzle out.

Eric Garton said in an April 25, 2017, Harvard Business Review article:[1]

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“… inspiring leaders are those who use their unique combination of strengths to motivate individuals and teams to take on bold missions – and hold them accountable for results. And they unlock higher performance through empowerment, not command and control.”

How to Be an Inspiring and Influential Leader

To be an inspiring and influential leader requires:

1. Courage

The late poet Maya Angelou once said,

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”

Courage is required in the workplace when implementing new strategies, especially when they go against professional norms.

For instance, I heard Lisa TerKeurst, bestselling author and founder of Proverbs 31 Ministries, explain her decision to move away from her company’s magazine. While the organization had long had a magazine, she saw a future where it didn’t exist.

In order to make the switch, she risked angering her team members and customers. She took a chance, and what started out as a monthly newsletter, has grown into a multi-dimensional organization boasting half a million followers. Had Lisa not found the courage to change the direction of her organization, they undoubtedly would not have been able to experience such exponential growth.

It also takes courage to give and receive feedback. When leaders see employees who are not living into the company’s mission or who are engaging in behavior that may undermine their long-term success, one must risk temporary angst and speak candidly with the colleague in question.

Similarly, it takes courage to hear constructive criticism and try to change. In business, as in life, courage is necessary for being an inspiring and influential leader.

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2. A Commitment to Face Your Internal Demons.

If you feel great about yourself, enter a leadership position. You are likely to be triggered in ways you didn’t think possible. You are also likely to receive feedback that may leave you second-guessing yourself and your leadership skills.

The truth about leading others is that you get to a point where you realize that it is difficult to take people to places where you yourself haven’t gone.

To be an influential and inspiring leader, you have to face your own demons and vow to continually improve. Influential leaders take their personal evolution serious, and they invest in coaching, therapy and mindfulness to ensure that their personal struggles do not overshadow their professional development.

3. A Willingness to Accept Feedback

Inspiring and influential leaders are not afraid to accept feedback. In fact, they actively solicit it. They understand that everyone in their life has a lesson to teach them, and they are willing to accept it.

Inspirational leaders understand that feedback is neither good nor bad but rather an offering that is critical to growth. Even when it hurts or is an affront to the ego, influential leaders understand that feedback is critical to their ability to lead.

4. Likability

Some people will argue that leaders need not worry about being liked but should instead focus on being respected. I disagree. Both are important.

When team members like their boss and believe their boss likes them, they are more likely to go the extra mile to fulfill departmental or organizational goals. Likable leaders are moved to the front of the line when it comes to being influential.

Relatedly, when colleagues feel management dislikes them, they experience internal stress and can spend unnecessary time focusing on the source of their manager’s discontent versus the work they have been hired to do.

So, likability is important for both the leader and the people she leads.

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5. Vulnerability

Vulnerability is critical for being an inspiring leader. People want the truth. They admire leaders who can occasionally demonstrate vulnerability. It promotes deeper relationships and inspires trust.

When leaders can showcase vulnerability appropriately, they destroy the illusion that one must be perfect to be a leader. They also demonstrate that vulnerability is not a dirty word; they too can be vulnerable and ask for a helping hand when necessary.

6. Authenticity

Authenticity is about living up to one’s stated values in public and behind closed doors.

Influential leaders are authentic. They set to live out their values and use those values to guide their decisions. The interesting thing about leadership is that people are not looking for perfect leaders. They are, in part, looking for leaders who are authentic.

7. A True Understanding of Inspiration

Effective leaders are inspirational. They understand the power of words and deeds and use both strategically.

Inspiring leaders appropriately use stories and narratives to enable the teams around them to see common situations in an entirely new light.

Inspirational leaders also showcase grit and triumph while convincing the people around them that success and victory are attainable.

Finally, inspiring leaders encourage the teams they lead to tap into their own genius. They convince others that genius is not reserved for a select few but that most people have it in them.

As explained in the article True Leadership: What Separates a Leader from a Boss:

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“A leader creates visions and motivates team members to work together towards the same goal.”

8. An Ability to See the Humanity in Others

Inspiring and influential leaders see the humanity in others. Rather than treating their teams as mere tools to accomplish organizational goals, they believe the people around them are unique beings with inherent value.

This means knowing when to pause to address personal challenges and dispelling with the myth that the personal is separate from the professional.

9. A Passion for Continual Learning

Inspiring and influential leaders are committed to continual learning. They invest in their own development and take responsibility for their professional growth.

These leaders understand that like a college campus, the workplace is a laboratory for learning. They believe that they can learn from multiple generations in the workplace as well as from people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Influential leaders proactively seek out opportunities for learning.

The Bottom Line

No one said leadership was easy, but it is also a joy. Influencing others to action and positively impacting the lives of others is a reward unto itself.

Since leadership abounds, there is an abundance of resources to help you grow into the type of leader who inspires and influences others.

More Resources About Effective Leadership

Featured photo credit: Markus Spiske via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: How to Be an Inspiring Leader

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