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The Cover Letter Segmentation Study

Be warned – this is not an official study.  No one was harmed in the deliberation of this topic.  However, your ability to obtain a phone or first round interview may be at risk.

Everyone in the job search advice arena has a different opinion on the value of a cover letter.  My experience and resulting opinions come as a result of being a hiring manager for 15 years and as a fellow job seeker.
I am personally not a big fan of cover letters.  I am also not a big reader of them unless they are short, crisp and very well written.  What has caused my falling out?  I have seen way too many cover letters that try too hard and, as a result, end up triggering a filter alarm that negatively predisposes that person’s candidacy for the job.
Now if you are not a regular user or a reader of market research, a segmentation study is basically a quantitative research study that gains as much information as possible about a large number of people in the qualified target group.  All this information is then filtered until clear groupings or segments are identified.  Each segment is given a name to identify them and to indicate their leaning.
For example, if you were to take a poll with everyone attending a LA Dodgers game, you might see the following segments:
  1. Early Birds – get to the stadium early for batting practice and to avoid the food lines
  2. Latenicks – always arrive in the third inning (don’t know they are supposed to sit down)
  3. Premies – always leave early – no matter the score (to beat traffic)
  4. Nite Owls – stay to try for player autographs and to watch the infield get raked

Now that we know something about them, we can market to them based on their likes, dislikes.  Or we can choose to avoid them altogether.

ANYWAY, back to the topic.
Based on my experience, here are the segments for cover letter writers and what makes them unique:
  1. The minimalist uses the cover letter as basically a fax cover sheet.  “Attached is my resume.  Please call”.  Problem?  Feels like no effort – a mass mailing.
  2. The cautious is very careful to say only the right things.  No red flags but no personality and no differentiating content.  Problem?  Never had me.
  3. The kick start begins with a well-thought out introductory line or paragraph (not cute or too bold) but finishes with a number of mistakes in tone or content (see examples below).
  4. The copywriter has obviously spent a lot of time on “the pitch” and it feels like it.  What could be said in fewer words . . . is not.
  5. The obvious questioner asks a number of questions that all companies will inevitably say yes to like “Are you looking for someone to drive real growth?”.  Asking doesn’t make you the guy or gal.
  6. The creative has a fancy cover letter template with matching business cards.  It is on stark white paper and uses fun colors to set it apart.  Please don’t do this unless you are sure that your audience will appreciate it.
  7. The call out will attempt to underline or use bold type face on way too many points in the cover letter.  A good letter will be short enough and well written enough that the key points will be obvious and relevant to the reader.
  8. The statistician looks to show off his/her knowledge of the industry by including trends, projections and things like PE ratios.  I wonder how many HR managers care about this or know enough to understand these numbers.
  9. The I am your man displays a powerful confidence.  They address their letter to the top executive directly (having sent the envelope by Fed Ex or courier) and express overt confidence that they, and no one else, are right for the job.  There is an over confidence in this approach (although the overnight package combined with a good cover letter can be effective).
  10. The ignorant completely ignores the job description, pays no attention to the submission requests from HR and usually is either completely under qualified (level) or has no relevant experience whatsoever.

So, what makes a good cover letter?

I like to see a short, well written, targeted and well thought out introduction that helps me mentally place you in the job before I even review your qualifications.  So I created a template you can download.  Introducing the TruFocus cover letter template.
If you are a resume expert or professional cover letter writer, I invite your comments to this post.

Written by: Tim Tyrell-Smith
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Categories: Cover Letters And Resumes

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