By Goke Ilesanmi
Beyond packaging a great curriculum vitae (CV), you also need the reinforcement of a persuasive cover or application letter to boost your chances of being invited for a job interview. A cover letter, variedly called letter of application, letter of introduction, transmittal letter and broadcast letter is a letter that no wise job-seeker should send his or her CV without. A cover letter is an important job search tool. Its purpose is to attract attention to you and prove your suitability for a job. The cover letter is also where you state why you are interested in the job or the company. Findings show that only few employers seriously consider a CV that is not accompanied by a cover letter; thus, a dynamically persuasive cover letter needs to be part of your job-search strategy.
It is a known fact that the world is now a global village occasioned by the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) explosion. The implication of the ICT explosion is that there is now increased competition in business, job-search, etc., as more awareness is created. Also, as opposed to what obtained in those days in Nigeria when jobs were waiting for applicants, applicants now go through a rigorous process to get jobs.
The import of this is that the era of packaging a chronological CV or writing a passive and informative cover or application letter is gone and you now need the creativity of persuasive communication to write your letter and stand out from the crowd. Even business people need to write a persuasive proposal to stand out and win business.
I deployed this skill to write proposals to MTN and Union Bank in 2011 and the corporate communications managers then were so impressed that they called and commended me.
If we now need persuasive communication in job search and business transactions, what then is persuasion? Persuasion can be variedly defined. At one level of definition, it is conceived as the process by which a communicator tries to influence the attitudes, values, belief system or action of his or her listener(s) or audience. Simply put, it is about convincing people. It is noteworthy that the beginning of successful persuasion is to build trust and credibility so that you can be accorded attention by your audience or recipient(s). That is, you need to quickly include information about them to show you have knowledge of their operations.
As an applicant, for example, you need to quickly show some knowledge about the company you are applying to by including something like, “It is impressive that since you started operation in Nigeria on 15th May, 1990….”; “It is commendable that you made a profit after tax of N- million in your last financial year….”, etc.
Another thing you do in persuasion is to concentrate on issues that are important to your audience. For instance, focus on how you will contribute to the productivity and profitability of the organisation not on benefits you hope to get upon employment.
Note: We will X-ray components of a persuasive cover letter later in this discourse.
A cover letter is so important because a CV is useless to an employer if he or she does not know the kind of job you are seeking, especially if you do not have a (combined chronological) functional CV that shows the kind of job you like in the objective section. A persuasive cover letter tells the prospective employer the type of position you are seeking and how you are qualified for that position.
It highlights the aspects of your experience that are most useful to the prospective employer, and you can earn points for knowing what those aspects are. There is no disputing the fact that prospective employers receive a lot of CVs, especially when they advertise a (vacant) position. These employers are also very busy.
Often the person screening CVs skims through each for just a few seconds. Your cover letter can draw attention to the skills, talents and experience the prospective employer is looking for. Your letter can explain things that your CV cannot. If you have large gaps in your employment history or you are re-entering the job market or changing the focus of your career, a cover letter can explain these circumstances in a positive way.
Comparison of function
A cover letter can serve the same function as the Objective part of your CV, and expatiate on it. Some applicants are reluctant to “limit” themselves by putting an Objective in their CV. It is better for a job-seeker to target the type of job being specifically looked for and you may be open to more than one option. As I said during the CV discourse, you can have different CVs targeting different jobs.
You can simply have your CV on the computer and just adapt it to fit the requirements of each job you are applying for. Note that your CV is not a record of your life history that is already fixed, so you can adapt it (CV) as you like. A cover letter is a little window into your personality. A well-composed cover letter can suggest to a prospective employer that you are just the right type of dynamic person the company is looking for.
Cover letter contents
A typical cover letter contains address(es), salutation, etc.
Addresses: You will write two addresses. That is, your personal address and that of the recipient.
Salutation: Here, guard against the error that may manifest as a result of jumping into conclusion about the recipient’s sex based on the name. Try to confirm the sex of whoever you are asked to direct your letter to in the advert, especially if you are only given the designation. However, experts suggest that in the event of not being able to confirm the sex, or get the real name of the recipient, use Dear Sir/Madam. If it is a female real name that is involved and you are not sure of the marital status, use Dear Ms. You can also use Dear Madam for the unknown female recipient.
You will also include the heading or title, introduction, body containing paragraphs as well as the conclusion.
Types of cover letters
There are roughly three types of cover letters. These are the invited, the uninvited and referral cover letters. I have written on this before. Please the article on this site.
Dynamic and persuasive cover letters
It is better to maximise the impact of your cover letter by making it dynamic and persuasive, more so that you have only a few seconds to impress your reader. There is a formula that can be followed as a guide in writing your cover letter. It is critical that each cover letter be unique and specific to you and the employer – not one that any applicant could have written to any employer. It is better to keep your cover letter short, maybe, a maximum of one page. If you are writing a cover letter that you plan to e-mail, consider shortening the cover letter to just three short paragraphs so that it runs no longer than about one screen.
Structure of a dynamic and persuasive cover letter
The heading or title: The heading or title of the letter must communicate benefits to the recipient instead of informing about your need of employment. One way do to attract readers’ attention is to promise them a benefit. Therefore, it is better to write your heading as “Boosting your organisational productivity and profitability through my employment as XYZ” instead of the informative and traditional version “Application for the Post of XYZ”. It is also better to write in the heading or title of your business proposal “Multiplying your school’s profitability and popularity through exceptional career seminar” instead of “Proposal for a career seminar”. Writing your cover letter for employment or writing a business proposal for business should be very persuasive. A persuasive business proposal is the one customised for one recipient. It cannot be transferred to another person or organisation. That is why it naturally elicits action from the recipient.
By way of analogy, most times when we look at a male and say he is handsome or look at a female and say she is beautiful, our compliment is basically based on the attractiveness of the head region which houses the face, teeth, lips, etc. That is why irrespective of how good the bodily frame or shape of a male or female is, if the head region is not attractive, he or she will NOT be seen to be handsome or beautiful.
The same is true of business communication. Effective headings are very critical to the success of our business/marketing communication. This is because we have just some minutes or even seconds to grab the attention of our prospects and sustain their interest to keep reading our pieces of marketing information, in the form of proposals, sales letters, brochures or even our corporate websites. Headings are the first thing the prospects read. Findings show that four out of five people decide whether they keep reading to learn about your products and/or services on the basis of your headings.
First paragraph of the cover letter: Do not waste this opening paragraph of your cover letter. It is essential that it sparks the employer’s interest by quickly establishing your credibility in the form of showing knowledge of the business activities of the company you are applying to or the client you are sending a proposal to. It is like a marketer convincing you he or she knows much about you before marketing to you. You will be compelled to give him or her extra attention and ready to transact business with him or her. Establishing credibility is the first rule of persuasion.
Also in this first paragraph, you provide information about the benefits the employer will receive from employing you, and you will stand out from all other job-seekers who want the job. Focus on your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) — the one thing that makes you different from all the other job-seekers. Let us examine examples at this juncture.
Weak opening paragraph: “I am writing to apply for the sales manager position you have advertised.”
Better opening paragraph: “It is impressive that Tiskies Global Nigeria Ltd has made a great impact in Nigeria and globally in terms of production of designer wears of international quality since commencement of operations in Nigeria in year XYZ. Similarly, I have increased the sales level in every position I have held, and this has increased the revenues and profits of my employers. I want to bring this same success to the sales position of sales manager you have advertised”. To be continued next week.
Bailout to job-seekers: Since we started the serial on CV, many job-seekers have been mounting pressure on me to get them jobs. The pressure got so much last week that I was forced to speak with people like Mrs Aluko Abiola of Tiskies Global Nigeria Ltd; Architect Samuel Alonge, PRO of the Association of Consulting Architects of Nigeria (ACAN) and others to help me out. Eventually, Mrs. Aluko offered to assist. So, the good news is that job-seekers can now apply for jobs in her company operating in the garment industry. Those needed are qualified Project Managers, Business Managers/General Managers, Fashion Designers, International Business Officers/Merchandisers/Visual Merchandisers, Marketers, Accountants, Receptionists/Front Desk Officers and Brand Managers. Interested qualified applicants can send their CV and application. Educational requirement is a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree or HND in the relevant area.
PS: For those making inquiries about our Public Speaking, Business Presentation and Professional Writing Skills programme, please visit the website indicated here for details.
GOKE ILESANMI, Managing Consultant/CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is an International Platinum Columnist, Professional Public Speaker/MC, Communication Specialist, Motivational Speaker and Career Management Coach. He is also a Book Reviewer, Biographer and Editorial Consultant.
Tel: 08055068773; 08187499425