In this difficult economic environment, a job-seeker needs every advantage he or she can muster. It’s just not enough to have a brilliant resume, a passel of personal recommendations and the willingness to work for peanuts. These days, you also need a cover letter.
It’s called a “cover letter” because it “covers” your resume, or it did, back in the days when job applications were dashed off with a quill pen and hand-carried to the potential employer by a unformed envoy of the U.S. Postal Service. This is the electronic age, where a better name for a cover letter might be “cover e-mail.” Or it could be called job-hunter porn, considering the passion with which most candidates approach a possible opening.
No matter how salaciously you word your cover communication, certain rules do apply, and that is the purview of Evelyn Salvador, the author of “Step-by-Step Cover Letters.”
According to Salvador, the secret to writing a winning cover letter is personal branding. “If job-seekers learn how to brand themselves well and include their personal brand message in their cover letter,” she explains,” they can generally put themselves in the top 2 percent of candidates — even in a tough economy.”
If 98 percent of job candidates have indeed missed the concept of personal branding, you may actually have a chance of getting a gig. Still, this may not be a slam-dunk, especially if you are competing with generic, store-brand, Costco-type candidates — who, let’s be honest, will probably be a whole lot cheaper to hire than you, the high-priced spread.
But how do you determine your personal brand? It has nothing to do with your personality. That’s good because — let’s be honest here, as well — you really don’t have one. Instead, you’ll need to fall back on your “assets and features,” or as Salvador describes them, “the qualities, attributes, skills and know-how you possess.”
This may be a problem, unless you consider the quality of being an experienced slacker, whose main attribute is a desire to do as little as possible. And a slacker who has the skill and the know-how to successfully blame co-workers when there is a major or minor disaster.
Key elements of your personal brand are the benefits you would provide to a potential employer. Certainly, you won’t be contributing to the success of the company, but you would provide the benefit of making every other employee look so much better by comparison.
Your cover letter will also need a “value statement,” which is defined by Salvador as the “total worth of all the benefits you can offer in exchange for salary by way of promised deliverables backed by matching achievements.” I know that “deliverables” and “achievements” are not your strong suits, but don’t sell yourself — or your value — short. No one can hold down an Aeron chair as well as you. And no one can consistently be the first to wolf down all the jelly donuts at staff meetings, thus saving your co-workers from becoming clinically obese.
The final step in defining your personal brand is to calculate your ROI or return on investment. This is a financial term used to measure the value that a future employer will gain by hiring you. According to Salvador, you calculate your ROI by “dividing the amount of money you have saved or earned for your employers by the cost of hiring you.”
Since the cost of hiring you is nil — at least in terms of money — your ROI should be quite high. Think of all the money you have saved your former employer by holding down that Aeron chair. Why, if that chair went flying, it could fall on someone who was actually working, resulting in a nasty lawsuit, probably ending up with the company having to shell out a million dollars in damages.
So, a million dollars divided by zero is a million dollars— not a bad ROI, though you do have to subtract the cost of all those jelly donuts, which will probably bring your ROI down a bit, maybe to $1.43.
Let’s face facts: If you’re a brand, you’re a luxury brand like Gucci or Prada. You have no real value, except to make the owners feel better about themselves. And think how good your manager will feel about hiring you. Giving you a job is a charitable act much more selfless than supporting a homeless waif in some wretched, third-world country. And at your salary, it’s a lot less expensive, too.
Bob Goldman has been an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company in the San Francisco Bay Area. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org.