I’ve read many books about job hunting. Most of them were full of bad advice. What they explained (sometimes well, sometimes poorly) was how to do well what everyone else is already doing.
When you’re competing with hundreds of qualified people for one good job, doing what everyone else is doing – even if you do it especially well – won’t get you the job. Why? Because the person to whom you are sending your resume is getting dozens or even hundreds just like yours !
When writing resumes, most people do exactly the same things. They emphasize their strengths, hide their weaknesses, and make all the same claims:
“I’m highly organized.”
“I get along well with people.”
“I’m a natural leader.”
“I’m a self-starter.”
“If I have one fault, it’s that I can’t tolerate bad work.”
Maybe you are highly organized. Perhaps you are a natural leader. But when everybody else applying for the job is making the same claim, what’s a potential employer going to do? How can he know that your claim is the one, true claim?
He can’t. And so he’ll ignore it. Instead, he’ll look for any little evidence of imperfection in your resume – a mis-punctuated sentence, a reference to a hobby he doesn’t like – and then toss it in the trash basket. How do I know? Because I’ve deep-sixed thousands of conventional resumes.
If you really want to get hired, you have to distinguish yourself. And the best way to do that is to forget about the standard resume/cover letter program altogether and replace it with a more sophisticated, more personalized pitch that is based on proven, direct-marketing principles.
Direct marketing is the science of creating positive responses with sales letters. By using its proven secrets, you’ll dramatically increase your chances of getting the kind of response (“Come in for an interview!”) you are looking for.
Sending out standardized resumes and cover letters – the conventional approach to getting a job – hardly ever works, because they are too broadly written, they are sent out to too wide an audience, and they talk too much about the sender and too little about the reader.
Anybody who’s been in the sales or direct-marketing business will tell you that these are three major strikes against you.
The First and Most Important Secret to Finding a Job
The most important thing you need to realize about getting a job is this: The person who will be reading your letter is not really interested in you.
He’s interested in himself. And he’s also interested in his business – the problems and the challenges his company faces every day. He may be in need of someone to help him, but he doesn’t care about how wonderful that person is. He just wants to know: “Can this person solve my problems?”
Let’s get back to direct marketing. The direct marketer knows that, to make a sale, he can’t waste his prospect’s time by talking about himself. Everything he writes must be focused on the prospect’s problem and how much better her life will be after she’s bought his product.
This is exactly what you have to do when you send out job-hunting letters. You have to let your prospective employer know that you understand exactly what his problems are and that you have solutions for each and every one of them.
Think of it this way: When seeking a job,
The letter and the resume are parts of a direct-mail promotion.
The letter is intended to sell. As a sales letter, it must be about the prospect’s problems, not about your strengths, weaknesses, or wishes.
The resume is secondary. With the right sales letter, it’s not even necessary. If you do include a resume, it should serve as a quick-reference guide to your previous successes and strengths rather than giving a lot of superfluous information about hobbies or career objectives.
The prospect – the guy that you are going to work for – is the customer.
You are the product – the product that is going to solve his problems.
Do Your Research
It’s very important that you send your letter directly to your prospect, not to some anonymous paper shuffler in the Human Resources Department. You must do everything you can to find out who your prospective boss is so you can get your letter into his hands.
Once you’ve done that, you need to write a letter that sells your “customer” on the idea that you can make his life much easier and his business much better by hiring you. You can’t just say it; you have to convince him of it.
To do that, you need to figure out specific ways that you can save him time, hassle, and waste – and, ultimately, boost his sales and improve profits.
Start by researching the industry. Then tackle a few specific companies.
Research each company’s history, its practices, and its products. Research its competition. Read the company’s recent press releases and annual reports. Get in touch with employees, competitors, and/or industry analysts – and ask questions. Determine the company’s goals, problems, and challenges. While you’re at it, find out the secret to its growth.
The absolute minimum information you should have about a potential employer:
- its annual sales (approximately)
- its primary profit center (what really makes its money)
- its greatest business strength
- its greatest business weakness
While you’re doing your research, find out what it takes to excel at the job you want. Look into what your prospective employer looks for when hiring entry-level people. And determine the tricks and skills the successful people in that field use to get to the top and stay there.
After you’ve looked into the business itself, find out about the person you want to work for. Figure out what he needs in order to make his own life better. Does he need someone who can improve his products? Reduce his costs? Increase his sales? Reduce the time he wastes following up on things? Find out what it is that he needs, even if you have to do so by making an informal “informational interview” with him to find out in person.
Once you know all you can about your prospective employer, you’re ready to write your sales letter. The letter should tell him, respectfully and concisely, how you intend to help him achieve his objectives if he hires you. Remember, you are selling yourself. So treat this as an opportunity to sell him on your product: You. Be specific. Make strong promises.
Anatomy of a Great Job Application Letter
A great cover letter:
- says something good about the company and the person you want to work for
- lets your prospect know that you know his goals, problems, objectives, etc.
- makes the claim that you are the person to solve/achieve them
- proves that you are
- requests a specific action (asks for the job)
If you write a great letter, you’ll no doubt get a chance to prove to your prospective employer, face to face, that you’re the right choice for the job. When you get the interview, show him that you are determined to work day and night – to be the best employee he’s ever hired.
“Find a job you like and you add five days to every week.”– H. Jackson Brown Jr.
(Ed. Note: The above article was adapted from Automatic Wealth for Grads, Michael Masterson’s newest book.)[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]