Microsoft published an interesting study in May documenting research on how our attention spans have changed over the past several years. In 2000 we had a 12-second attention span—which dropped to a mere eight-second attention span by 2013. We now have a one-second-shorter attention span than that of a goldfish. Let that sink in for a minute…What influence does our ever-shrinking attention span ultimately have on our job searches—and our cover letters? What are the repercussions? It means the cover letter as we know it traditionally is dead.
Related: 11 Tips For Creating Compelling Cover Letters
The Old Cover Letter:
- Makes up an entire page in length, is too long to fit on a mobile device screen without having to scroll, uses multiple paragraphs, and is text-dense.
- Has a lengthy introduction with 3-5 sentences on how they found out about the position, what they do, and their interest in the opportunity.
- It has a 2-3 paragraph body that elaborates on experience in the industry or position; may list a few experiences or accomplishments and the connection to why they want the opportunity or feel they’re a great fit.
- Closes with reiterating why they’re a good fit, restates interest, may share contact information or offer to follow up.
The New Cover Letter – Also Referred To As An E-Note, Power Note, Or Value Proposition Letter:
2016 Cover Letter Trend #1: The Shrinking Attention Span
Not only have our shrinking attention spans changed the way we consume information, but our brains are changing—and it’s affecting more than just how we use our mobile devices or consume content online. It’s changing the landscape of how we job search and demanding we communicate only the most vital information in the most concise way possible.
It’s creating a real dilemma for those who don’t consider themselves to be professional writers, or who have a hard time writing about themselves, or who find it hard to spare everything but the details. So what’s a job seeker to do? First and foremost…forget the traditional cover letter as you know it. Consider it a part of the past, and let’s move on to better strategies for job searching.
2016 Cover Letter Trend #2: Easily Readable On Mobile Devices
Cover letters—which I’ll now refer to as e-notes, power notes, or value proposition letters—must meet the demand of an increasingly mobile device-dependent audience. Your e-note, which is essentially the e-mail that your resume is attached to, should be short and fit on a single screen. Don’t expect to be able to write an incredibly concise e-note with your first draft. Go through and write your first version, and then go back and edit. Aim to use fewer than 150 words so that the entire text will be optimized to fit on a mobile screen without any scrolling.
2016 Cover Letter Trend #3: Give Them Space
When you’re writing your e-note be sure to incorporate plenty of white space. Using white space in your e-note will make the content more easily digestible by the reader. Consider the impact Twitter has had on our entire generation! We’re forced to say what we want to say in 140 characters or less—but the brilliance behind it is that Twitter had the foresight to know that their audience’s attention span was short, and they wanted to accommodate it. Whether your audience’s attention span is short, or they’re just pressed for time, use Twitter’s 140-character limit as your guide and create shorter sentences.
2016 Cover Letter Trend #4: Engage Or Fascinate Your Reader
When we teach job seekers how to write a Value Proposition Letter we advise them to always start with an interesting question or fascinating fact. For instance, my value proposition letter might start out by saying:
Are you a busy CEO with no time to write your resume?
Or it might say:
Are you a time-pressed executive being vetted for an opportunity that requires a resume yesterday?
Notice how I’m targeting my audience? Busy CEOs and time-pressed executives—while I’m also addressing their problem; they need a resume NOW—and they don’t have the time to do it themselves.
Start your e-note, power note, or value proposition letter the same way. Speak to your audience, ask a question or state an engaging fact that relates to them and their most pressing need. You always want to speak to the need.
2016 Cover Letter Trend #5: You’re The Answer
Once you’ve touched on the need or the problem they have, show them how you’re the answer! How are you the solution to your problem?
For example you could use three short bullets with provable results:
My clients enjoy results like these:
- In two weeks or less my clients are interviewing.
- Their resume response rate increases by 75%.
- 85% are employed in three months or less, obliterating the average job seeker’s search time by more than 50%.
Then you could tie the problem and how you’re the solution into your brand and what you do:
I work with busy top-level executives on tight deadlines to create interview-winning resumes within 3-5 business days.
I could change the wording to accommodate my audience, the result I want to share, the problem I need to address, the space I have, or any number of other variables. The beauty is that it’s completely customizable.
2016 Cover Letter Trend #6: Follow A Formula
Keep your e-note creation easy by following a formula. You won’t feel like you’re starting from scratch every time you write a new e-note, and before long you’ll know the formula so well that writing by it will be easier and faster.
Remember to keep each point short!
- Start with a question or engaging statement.
- Target the biggest need they have.
- State how you’re the solution.
- Prove it! Give them three bullets that prove you’re the solution.
- Don’t forget the money. Employers want to know how you made it, saved it, or contributed to it.
- How does this fit into your brand?
- Call to action close.
- Edit – Remember…150 words or fewer.
2016 Cover Letter Trend #7: Close With A Call To Action
When we write value proposition letters for our clients we always end with a great call to action. Mine might say:
Ready for results like these? Let’s chat!
Yours could say:
Ready to learn more?
Interested? Let’s talk! Call me at 1.800.991.5187.
You can customize your call to action. However, remember that the idea is: you want them to take action—whether that action is to call you, e-mail, check out your LinkedIn profile, or visit your web resume. You don’t want it to stop with your e-note; you want them to be so compelled by what you’ve said that they have to take a next step.
Keep these points in mind as you sit down to write your next cover letter, and you’ll be ten steps ahead of your competition.
Having a hard time writing your own cover letter? Let’s chat! Visit my website, call my office at 1.800.991.5187, or connect with me on LinkedIn to discuss how I help busy job seekers create interview-winning cover letters, resumes, and LinkedIn profiles that cut their job search time by 50% or more and secure interviews in two weeks or less.
WANT MORE ARTICLES LIKE THIS? Check out: 2016 Resume Trends
INFOGRAPHIC: What Employers See When You Apply on LinkedIn
This post was originally published at an earlier date
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How To Get An Employer’s Attention In 20 Seconds
About the author
Jessica Holbrook Hernandez, CEO of Great Resumes Fast is an expert resume writer, career and personal branding strategist, author, and presenter. Want to work with the best resume writer? If you would like us to personally work on your resume, cover letter, or LinkedIn profile—and dramatically improve their response rates—then check out our professional and executive resume writing services at GreatResumesFast.com or contact us for more information if you have any questions.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a CAREEREALISM-approved expert. You can learn more about expert posts here.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
It’s a good time to be a job seeker: U.S. job growth is strong, unemployment is on a steady decline, and openings are at an all-time high.
That doesn’t make the search any less daunting. Differentiating yourself from every other job seeker on the market is no small feat, and the monotony of filling out online applications can make the task downright exhausting. That’s where a killer cover letter comes in.
Done right, a great cover letter is like a secret weapon for catching a hiring manager’s attention. Next to your resume, it’s one of the most important, underutilized tools at your disposal.
Here are some cover letter writing tips, and a free, downloadable template, to make yours stand out.
Every cover letter you write should be tailored to the job you’re applying for — just like your resume. Study the job posting carefully, and make a quick list of any essential qualifications.
“Job seekers really struggle with what to say on a cover letter,” says Jessica Holbrook Hernandez, President and CEO of Great Resumes Fast. “Taking a second to think about why you’re applying, and why you’re a good fit for the company, makes the process a lot easier.”
If you’re adding a cover letter to an online application, use a business letter format with a header and contact information. If you’re sending an email, it’s OK to leave out the header, but be sure to provide a phone number (and an attached resume, of course). Make sure you’re clear about the position you’re applying for.
Avoid nameless salutations — it might take a little Google research, and some LinkedIn outreach, but finding the actual name of the position’s hiring manager will score you major brownie points. “Do not start a cover letter with, ‘to whom it may concern,’” Holbrook Hernandez says. “It concerns no one.”
2. Tell a Story
To grab a recruiter’s attention, a good narrative—with a killer opening line—is everything.
“The cover letter is a story,” says Satjot Sawhney, a resume and career strategist with Loft Resumes. “What is the most interesting thing you’re doing that’s relevant to this job?” Use that to guide your letter.
Ideally, the story that drives your resume will focus on a need at the company you’re applying for. If you’re a PR professional, maybe you have a list of clients in an industry the team wants to break into. If you’re in marketing, a successful promotional campaign might be the ticket in. “A hiring manager wants to see results-driven accomplishments with a past employer,” says Holbrook Hernandez. “If you’ve done it before, you can deliver it again.”
If you have a career gap or are switching industries, address it upfront. “If there’s anything unique in your career history, call that out in the beginning,” says professional resume writer Brooke Shipbaugh.
(Here’s a downloadable sample.)
3. Use Bullet Points to Show Impact
Hiring managers are usually slammed with applications, so short, quick cover letters are preferable to bloated ones, says Paul Wolfe, Senior Vice President of human resources at job site Indeed.
“Make your cover letter a brief, bright reference tool,” he says. “The easier you can make it on the recruiter the better.”
Bullet points are a good tool for pulling out numbers-driven results. Job seekers in creative fields like art and design can use bullets to break down their most successful project. Those in more traditional roles (like the one in the template), can hammer off two or three of their most impressive accomplishments.
4. Highlight Culture Fit
It’s often overlooked, but a major function of the cover letter is to show a company how well you’d mesh with the culture.
As you research a potential employer, look for culture cues on the company website, social media, and review sites like Glassdoor. Oftentimes, employers will nod to culture in a job posting. If the ad mentions a “team environment,” it might be good to play up a recent, successful collaboration. If the company wants a “self-starter,” consider including an achievement that proves you don’t need to be micromanaged.
The tone of your letter can also play to culture. “The cover letter is a great place to show [an employer] how you fit into their world,” Shipbaugh says. “Show some personality.”
5. End with an Ask
The goal of a cover letter is to convince the person reading it to make the next move in the hiring process — with a phone call, interview, or otherwise. Ending on a question opens that door without groveling for it.
“You have to approach this with a non-beggar mentality,” Sawhney says. “Having an ‘ask’ levels the playing field.”
Related: What Your Resume Should Look Like in 2018