Leave no stone unturned

Leave no stone unturned

THE best way to negotiate a tight job market is direct contacts or word of mouth. But that is not always possible and at some stage in our working lives we have to formally apply for a position.

Satisfying the criteria is crucial, obviously, but so are a well-compiled resume and a well-written cover letter. In fact, the cover letter might just be the most important part of the application, because the aim of submitting an application is to get an interview, and the cover letter can make or break that decision.

Professional communications consultant Greg Crowther points to the sage advice “leave no stone unturned” greetingstonesblog.com/tag/origin-of-leave-no-stone-unturned/

For two decades people have sought Greg’s advice on covering letters.

“Most people sweat the words in the resume or profile document,” he says, “and leave the covering letter to the last minute.

“The relationship of your covering letter to your resume is like the role of a subject line to the body of an email. A well-written subject line should encourage a reader to read the email.”

The covering letter has three goals. They are: to get you to the job interview; to indicate you have the skills, experience and desire for the advertised job; and to say your resume will back this up.

Part of the problem with covering letters is the immediate background of the applicant.

If you are just out of school or university you will probably find it difficult to leave “essay” mode behind.

If you are looking to progress in an organisation or industry, chances are you haven’t written a cover letter for some time and are relying on your savvy, reputation or familiarity. As an old editor of mine used to say about a columnist who in his writing spoke more about himself than the broader issues: “Croker, sub the I’s out of this.”

This is number one on Greg’s list of the five main pitfalls of application letters.

1. Writing about you, not them.

It is important to give a glimpse of your personality, but this can be achieved in the introduction or the sign-off. Waxing lyrical about you runs the risk of being perceived as “try hard”. In any case your resume should tell your story.

2. Being generic.

It is possible without going into too much detail to give a specific example of a previously successful undertaking that best exemplifies your suitability for the role. Certainly you can point to the fuller explanation in the “satisfying criteria” component of the application.

3. Waffling.

Remember in the first instance recruiters are looking to cull the list. Waffling is good enough reason to have your application binned. As in all business writing, less is more.

4. Regurgitating your resume.

The covering letter provides a great chance to pick the eyes out of your resume and career. One sentence can be tantalising. Many people have spent so much time on their resume it overwhelms their thinking and overtakes their covering letter.

5. Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.

These provide the perfect reason to cull. Print out your cover letter and read the hard copy. Get someone else to read it as well.

Bearing these in mind will help you capture a prospective employer’s interest and get you to the interview. Rereading and refining is the equivalent of the Oracle of Delphi’s advice to leave no stone unturned.

Darrell Croker is an expert in writing for business.