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Cover Songs, Cover Letters, and Three Ways to Stand Out in Your Job Search

I love cover songs. A new recording of a previously released song by someone other than the original artist. For me, it’s the reason I love Spotify and YouTube! I admit that I shed a few tears hearing of Tom Petty’s passing. He was the sound of my youth. Never again will I be able to hear new music from Tom Petty. But through the magic of Spotify and YouTube, I can listen to other artists pay homage to him with new interpretations of his great work. So, why do new musicians invest the time to produce cover songs and what does it have to do with cover letters and your job search?

Cover songs enable unknown musicians to establish an emotional bond with a listener (like me!). Through a shared connection to a favorite song from the listener’s past, the artist can rise above the competition. It’s like “I don’t know you. But I know that song, and I love the way you played it. I want to hear more of your work.” If only our job search could work the same way.

Think of your cover letter as the cover song for your job search. The job market is full of candidates just like Spotify and YouTube are filled with millions of artists and songs. What is going to make you stand out from all the other applicants for a position and make someone add your resume to their playlist? In my career, I have seen more than 5,000 resumes and cover letters. Give me a choice to read the resume or the cover letter, and I would always gravitate to the cover letter first. If the cover letter spoke to me, made an emotional connection, then I would move on to the resume review.

I am sure to take some criticism from other professional resume writers. I get it, and they have valid points. The resume remains the cornerstone document of the job search process. Many applicant tracking systems and hiring workflows do not allow for cover letter submission. A well-crafted resume is critical to your job search. There any number of strategies to enhance the quality of your resume and optimize that resume for a specific position. But my premise for this article is how to further differentiate yourself above and beyond the competition. Everyone provides a resume. Not everyone goes a step further and provides a cover letter. Think of it as free advertising for your resume. The cover letter allows you to speak in your authentic voice, establish a meaningful connection with the reader and prompt them to turn the page and dig into your resume.

Here are three ways to enhance the effectiveness of your cover letters.

  • Pull the reader into your orbit. You need to hook the reader immediately with the first paragraph of your cover letter. Get straight to the point with exactly what position you are seeking and why you have a particular reason and even emotional connection to the opportunity. This technique is more marketing than science. Brainstorm several bullet points about what the position, the organization, and its values and culture mean to you. Then stack rank the bullet points in order of importance and put the top 2 into 1-2 sentences that make up the balance of the first paragraph of your cover letter. This article from The Muse has an excellent example of a cover letter first paragraph.

  • Incorporate your elevator pitch to rise above the competition. If you follow my job search process, that means that you have your elevator pitch in great shape before you ever draft a cover letter. Good thing because the body of your cover letter (1-2 paragraphs maximum) is your elevator pitch. But not just your basic elevator pitch. It is customized based on the research you have done on the position and the organization. It is a compelling narrative of how you are the most uniquely qualified candidate for that specific job and organization. When the audience finishes reading the body of your cover letter, they will know how your value proposition maps directly to the position and fits within their organization.

  • Structure and brevity are your friends. I don’t like long movies or long dinners, and I most definitely don’t like reading long cover letters. Cover letter structure is essential and should follow the construct of a standard business letter. This infographic from Glassdoor is an excellent visual of a well planned out cover letter. Keep your cover letters to a maximum of one page with the extensive use of white space. Effectively you will have a maximum of 75% of the page filled with text and content.

Remember that the cover letter is your opportunity to speak directly to the hiring organization, your buyer in the job search process. You get to use your authentic voice and tell your best story. Take advantage of the opportunity to write your very own cover song and in the words of the immortal Tom Petty…never back down!

If you like getting your job search advice served up with an authentic voice, a dose of humility, and some popular culture, please subscribe to my AdvantEdge blog.

Dan Troup is the Managing Director of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a job search expert and certified career coach can assist you, please contact AdvantEdge Careers for a free initial consultation.


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