There's an old marketing maxim I live by when advising job seekers.
It dates back to the 1930s and comes from Robert Collier, one of the best writers of sales letters who ever lived.
It goes like this: To create successful advertising, the writer must enter the conversation already going on in mind of the reader.
Because everybody is thinking about something. If you can tap into a person's thoughts with your message, they will pay attention to you.
Applied to your job search, your cover letters should address concerns that are already in the mind of the reader. In this case, that's your future boss.
Would you like to know two ways to do that, stand out, and get hired faster?
Here they are ...
1) Use the News
Every day, the news headlines offer you a ready-made source of ideas to capitalize on when writing cover letters to employers.
Let me illustrate with two examples.
Example #1: Local news item
If you're in the Twin Cities, you can start a cover letter with this headline, based on a sports story that's in the news right now:
The Twins Have Won 9 of Their Last 10 Games -- Would You Like an Even Better Winning Percentage?
... then begin your letter like this:
Dear Ms. Abercrombie,
I don't know if you follow the Twins, but they've won 9 of their last 10 games -- 90%. That's hot.
My recent experience as a project manager is even hotter: I've managed 8 of 8 projects to on-time, on-budget completion this year, for a "winning" percentage of 100. Could your team use a performer like that? I hope so!
Let me explain ...
The rest of that cover letter is up to you.
But you WILL have the reader's complete attention by this point, so the battle is half won.
Example: #2: National news item
If you live in the U.S.A, here's a cover letter headline based on a story in the news this summer:
Oprah's Vacation to Australia -- Now Coming to ABC, Inc.?
Begin your letter to the president of ABC like this:
Dear Mr. Peterson,
Did you see what Oprah did on her TV show the other day? She announced she was taking her entire studio audience to Australia.
While I can't send you to Australia, I can send you to Seventh Heaven. You see, I've produced annual savings of more than three times my salary for my last two employers.
Could your business use a "dream vacation" like that from today's nightmare economy?
Bonus: Besides a cover letter, you can use the news as the topic for a follow-up letter to send any employer you've applied to in the last 90 days. Because a relevant news story is a valid reason to get back in touch and jump-start your candidacy.
2) Use the Competition
Every business, including your next employer, is in competition with at least one other business for customers and revenue.
In many cases, the competition is not only on an employer's mind all day, it's keeping them awake at night.
Use this to your advantage when writing a cover letter.
Example: Let's say you want to work for XYZ Company, whose #1 competitor is Acme Widgets.
Do you think the president of XYZ might be impressed if you told her/him that you worked for Acme's biggest client? Or that Acme's new VP of Marketing worked at UPS for 13 years (and that as a former UPS employee, you're familiar with their culture)? Etc., etc.
Competitive intelligence like this can improve any cover letter by letting you join the conversation going on in the mind of an employer.
How do you find actionable intelligence about the competition?
Here are two web sites that can help ...
1. Google Alerts (www.google.com/alerts). Track the name of any company, person (or anything else) whenever Google finds it online. Search for names of competitors to your ideal employers. What announcements are they making? What do they see as hot markets? Is their president being quoted in the news?
2. Linkedin (www.linkedin.com). Who works at the competition? Where did they work before? Who are they hiring? What departments are growing? It's all there, if you look.
To sum up, every employer is always thinking about something -- our minds go non-stop for most of our waking lives.
All you need do is find one thing you know an employer is thinking about, then write a cover letter tied to that thing. When you do, you can make an instant connection with hiring managers -- and get called for more interviews.
Kevin Donlin is contributing co-author of "Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 2.0." Since 1996, he has provided job-search help to more than 20,000 people. For a free Guerrilla Job Search audio CD, visit MyNewJobHunt.com