[11.26.08]
34 great comments!

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
Tags: |
Categories: Cover Letters And Resumes
  • A good cover letter tells the reader why they are reading your resume. Most people take seconds to scan the resume for companies they recognize and titles. If they are interested, they may read the cover letter. If it contains three reasons the individual is spot on for the job opening in a compelling manner, it has done its job.
    Rita Ashley,
    Job Search Coach

  • A good cover letter tells the reader why they are reading your resume. Most people take seconds to scan the resume for companies they recognize and titles. If they are interested, they may read the cover letter. If it contains three reasons the individual is spot on for the job opening in a compelling manner, it has done its job.
    Rita Ashley,
    Job Search Coach

  • TTS

    Thanks Rita. Glad to have you back. Your advice is much appreciated!

  • TTS

    Thanks Rita. Glad to have you back. Your advice is much appreciated!

  • In my post tonight at peoplepowergranny.blogspot.com, I discuss what it was like when I got laid off a little over a year ago, and how I finally landed something…not as good of pay, but a chance to live in a more desirable place and change my lifestyle. Are you concerned about job layoffs. Will they affect your family? Vote in my poll!

  • In my post tonight at peoplepowergranny.blogspot.com, I discuss what it was like when I got laid off a little over a year ago, and how I finally landed something…not as good of pay, but a chance to live in a more desirable place and change my lifestyle. Are you concerned about job layoffs. Will they affect your family? Vote in my poll!

  • TTS

    Thanks for sharing your story “Granny”. I read your post and voted!

  • TTS

    Thanks for sharing your story “Granny”. I read your post and voted!

  • Michelle K M

    As a recent Post-Graduate seeking employment in this economy, I’m always interested in learning new ideas to present myself. And in this new internet environment, it is quite difficult to present yourself after having been in the employment sector for so long.
    But with the advice of experts like yourself, I’ve readied myself with cover letters that pinpoint what I bring to the table in lieu of the requirements of the job.
    Each cover letter is to a specific person or a hiring agent of that company, depending on the advertisement. Personal identification is said to assist in catching the recruiter’s eye.
    Most recently, at the end of the letter, under my signature is the link to my Linkedin, profile. Is this acceptable, as I’ve recommendations on the site?

  • Michelle K M

    As a recent Post-Graduate seeking employment in this economy, I’m always interested in learning new ideas to present myself. And in this new internet environment, it is quite difficult to present yourself after having been in the employment sector for so long.
    But with the advice of experts like yourself, I’ve readied myself with cover letters that pinpoint what I bring to the table in lieu of the requirements of the job.
    Each cover letter is to a specific person or a hiring agent of that company, depending on the advertisement. Personal identification is said to assist in catching the recruiter’s eye.
    Most recently, at the end of the letter, under my signature is the link to my Linkedin, profile. Is this acceptable, as I’ve recommendations on the site?

  • Hi Michelle – As someone reminded me on the Spin Strategy LinkedIn group this week, not only is it acceptable to add a link to your profile, but it also shows that you are technology savvy. Thanks for adding your thoughts here.

  • Hi Michelle – As someone reminded me on the Spin Strategy LinkedIn group this week, not only is it acceptable to add a link to your profile, but it also shows that you are technology savvy. Thanks for adding your thoughts here.

  • Suzan

    Admittedly, I may be a “copywriter” but I always try to match my cover letter to the job description, in order to emphasize what a strong match I am. My resume is good, but it may not be obvious to the HR executive how my previous experience fits into this role.

  • Suzan

    Admittedly, I may be a “copywriter” but I always try to match my cover letter to the job description, in order to emphasize what a strong match I am. My resume is good, but it may not be obvious to the HR executive how my previous experience fits into this role.

  • Hi Suzan – Nothing wrong with highlighting your match with the job description. With HR groups as busy as they are, you are helping, right? My main point in warning about this segment was in writing too much copy when you can have a bigger impact with fewer words!

  • Hi Suzan – Nothing wrong with highlighting your match with the job description. With HR groups as busy as they are, you are helping, right? My main point in warning about this segment was in writing too much copy when you can have a bigger impact with fewer words!

  • Very good advice. I agree that a qualified cover letter comes from the heart. Also I would like to add that a hand written cover letter will work wonders, rather than a typed one. Of course, it needs to be scanned when e-mailed.

  • Very good advice. I agree that a qualified cover letter comes from the heart. Also I would like to add that a hand written cover letter will work wonders, rather than a typed one. Of course, it needs to be scanned when e-mailed.

  • Thanks Laura – Interesting thought about a handwritten cover letter. You’d better have good handwriting if you try it, though. I don’t want to read a long letter that taxes me!

  • Thanks Laura – Interesting thought about a handwritten cover letter. You’d better have good handwriting if you try it, though. I don’t want to read a long letter that taxes me!

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  • Your first impression may be the last impression; this is especially true in CV writing and just as importantly writing your cover letter, as it is practically the first thing that one reads. Therefore, writing a good cover letter is as important as writing a good curriculum vitae (CV). So, even if you have one of the best resumes in the world, and lack a good cover letter chances are that your CV may be discarded by a potential employer, thus ruining your chances of getting an interview call for one of the dream jobs. In order to avoid such a situation, it is important to learn to write an effective cover letter for CV.

  • Thanks for sharing your view point. I agree. Write a good cover letter or don’t write one at all. A bad cover letter can be a dis-qualifier to be sure!

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  • In today’s highly competitive world, you need an outstanding CV to reach at the interview stage – the first step in getting the job you want. In today’s whirlwind job market companies receive many applications from candidates with similar skill-sets and your CV needs to differentiate you and demonstrate your suitability to gain a competitive edge.

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  • jean4u

    Tim thanks for the info.  I followed another link and found the information. 

  •  OK – let me know if I can help with anything else!

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