Up until recently, the cover letter was considered an essential component of a job application. It was a chance for a candidate to entice a busy HR Manager and make that person want to know more.
The cover letter has gone the way of the Dodo Bird but the need to get someone’s attention has certainly not. You still need a hook.
In advertising, the hook is the upfront creative emotional trigger that makes us want more of whatever they’re selling. Back in the day, the cover letter was supposed to be your hook. It was supposed to make your resume stand out so that the HR Manager would put it in the right folder on a very crowded desk.
Making your resume stand out is really not that difficult. You just need the right hook statement. Once you have it, the hook statement should be used wherever it is most relevant. If you’re sending an email, the hook statement should be the body of that email. If you’re uploading your resume to a job board like ZipRecruiter, then your hook statement would go right where your summary or objective is positioned.
VERY IMPORTANT: It should be written in the first person, whereas the remainder of your resume is likely in the third.
How to compose your own hook statement
Start by setting your own expectations. This is going to take a little work to get it right. What you write down will need to be massaged and winnowed more than once before its ready for your resume.
Start by answering 4 questions.
- What do you want next in your career/job? Be specific. You may think it is obvious what someone with your background and résumé would want to do next. It’s not. Every person is vastly different. Try to make your vision of your future very clear.
- What is your situation now? Most of the time you’re looking for a new job for the simple reason that the answer to this question is negative. Try to keep it positive. Have you achieved something that you’re proud of perhaps? If your best answer here is negative, you will likely end up deleting it later, but write it down for now as part of the exercise.
- How did you get to where you are? Summarize your career to date in a way that supports question #1. Rather than just telling us that your awesome, focus on the achievements that make you awesome. Think in broad terms. Quantification is good even if you have to say “approximately”. It instantly makes it real and you believable. Stay away from percentages or anything else that can be interpreted subjectively.
- Why are you excited about the future? Nothing sounds better to an employer than an employee who’s enthusiastic. Too many job seekers practice stoicism. The hook is often emotional and excitement sells! Think in terms of the benefits you’ll bring to your future employer, not your fears, setbacks, or unhappiness.
In this real-life example, Brandon is in his mid 20’s. He leads a modest life with few worries. He’s living rent-free in one of his Dad’s rentals. His Mom is a chiropractor with her own practice. He is happy being an electrician and honestly has not put much thought into much more than that. The answers to the 4 questions below are honest and heartfelt.
1). I want to work with a well established electrical contractor.
2). I’m with a small company where there is too much drama and not enough work
3). I grew up with two entrepreneurial parents and always worked in the family business. I went on to accrue 5 years (mostly) as a residential and renewable electrician helper.
4). I’m excited to find an environment where I can get an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.
So how do we make this into something that wants to be read? We’re going to start by flipping it on its head. Ask yourself what the reader (or HR Manager) would want to read first. What would he find interesting or get excited about?
So the first draft might look like the following:
– I’m excited to find an environment where I can get an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.
– I grew up with two entrepreneurial parents and always worked in the family business. I went on to accrue 5 years (mostly) as a residential and renewable electrician helper.
– I’m with a small company where there is too much drama and not enough work
– I want to work with a well established electrical contractor.
How do we finish this? The drama comment is “negative” so we drop it. Then combine the other three into something that flows. Perhaps the following:
“I grew up working in the family business. My father was a carpenter. For the last 5 years, I have worked (mostly) as a residential electrician. I’m excited to find an environment working with a well established electrical contractor where I can get an honest days pay for an honest days work.”
Steven is a hard-working family man with an intense personality. He is frustrated because he feels like his career got off on the wrong path. At this point in his life, he finally knows exactly what he wants to be doing. So if he answers the questions in order:
1). I want to work for a good manager in an environment that has room for me to move into an eventual Senior Maintenance Mechanic position.
2). I started as an auto mechanic and manager. The last 6 years acquiring experience as a maintenance mechanic.
3). I was downsized from my contract position with General Motors
4). I’m excited because I feel confident that I am ready to have a job where my sole responsibility is maintenance and fixing machines.
We then flip the list and eliminate the negative.
– I’m excited because I feel confident that I am ready to have a job where my sole responsibility is maintenance and fixing machines.
– I started my career as an auto mechanic and manager. Then the last 6 years acquiring experience as a maintenance mechanic.
– I want to work for a good manager in an environment that has room for me to move into an eventual Senior Maintenance Mechanic position.
Now we make it flow:
“I started my career as an auto mechanic and manager but later transitioned to Maintenance Mechanic where I’ve spent the last 6 years gaining experience fixing machines. I very much want to work for a good manager in an environment that has room for me to eventually move into a Senior Maintenance Mechanic position. I’m excited because I’m confident this next move will afford me that opportunity.”
Bonus outcome of this exercise—the elevator speech?
Imagine you get 30 seconds in an elevator with your new potential boss. How do you convince her that you are worth investing in before you reach your floor? The answer is the above 4 sentences. What you’ve just written is your elevator speech!
Recite what you’ve written to a friend. If it sounds silly, then rewrite it until it is not. Once you’ve gotten it to where you sound like a real person—that’s your emotional hook.