Ask Brad: Does Anyone Ever Read Cover Letters?

Recruiters See Same Template Repeatedly so Get Creative and Make Yours Stand Out

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Q: Does anyone ever read cover letters?

A: I know exactly how your cover letter reads. It's a single-spaced, full-page, four-paragraph letter, organized as follows:

Paragraph 1: How I heard about the job
Paragraph 2: Why I want the job
Paragraph 3: My qualifications for the job
Paragraph 4: How I'll follow up on the job
Brad Karsh
Brad Karsh is president of JobBound, a career consulting company, and author of 'Confessions of a Recruiting Director.'

I also know you've taken what is already on your resume and simply rewritten it in paragraph form.

How do I know this? Because virtually every single job applicant writes the exact same cover letter.

C'mon folks, this is advertising -- show a shred of creativity.

Recruiting directors are flooded with resumes and spend about 15 seconds looking at each one individually. Now try tacking on a full-page, extremely boring document that basically says what is already on the resume. How many cover letters do you think actually get read?

That being said, you still need to create one. It shows that you are interested in the job and are willing to take the time and effort to write something. It is also a tremendously underutilized chance for you to sell yourself.

But here is the trick: Make that letter work. Think about your cover letter as a teaser ad for your resume. It doesn't have to tell your entire life story, but it does need to attract interest in your resume. Keep it short; make some sentences just a few words, and make some paragraphs one sentence. Write it very personally, and be conversational.

You need to catch their attention in the first sentence or two so they actually read on and give your resume extra review time. But beware: There is a fine line between clever and stupid.

Here is a sample letter. You will quickly see the difference between this one and the typical cover letter:

Dear Ms. Marhula:

Donald Duck almost ruined my life.

Now don't get me wrong, I love that flat-billed fowl, but he gave me some fits when it came to a massive McDonald's commercial shoot I was running.

As the Account Supervisor responsible for the project, I coordinated a $5 million-plus production effort featuring Disney characters and NFL football players helping sell a new McDonald's product.

It was the most intense project I had ever worked on. We produced a 60-second spot, five 30-second spots and more than a dozen regional versions of an ad that had to be approved by McDonald's, Disney and the NFL. If that wasn't hard enough, we completed it all in six weeks -- from concept to finished ads.

To cap it all off, our friend Donald didn't help much -- he had some issues saying "Two all beef patties" -- but in the end we worked it out.

Most people would flinch (or quit), but I actually loved it. Now I'm anxious to share my strong work ethic and passion with your company. I'll plan to follow up in one week.

Milo Jay

This certainly isn't the perfect cover letter for everyone (don't just copy it), but it does give you a sense of what to do.

Often, it is helpful to think about your elevator speech or your personal story. If you had a few seconds with a recruiting director to tell him about yourself, what would you say? Keep it short and personal, and let some of your personality shine through.
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