Elizabeth Nientimp, the director of brand design for General Mills, was asked by Inc. magazine (in its May 2012 issue), “What are the most important considerations when designing food packaging?” Her answer:
“Three things. First, make it simple. Resist the urge to tell consumers everything about your brand on the front of the package.”
Allow me to interrupt Ms. Ninetimp.
A couple of months ago I was at a career fair. There were thousands in attendance. One would-be candidate came over to me and handed me his resume and cover letter. I took one look at the cover letter, an eight by 10 single spaced sheet covered from top to bottom with his employment story and told him, “It’s too long. No one is going to read it.” “But it’s all important,” he replied. “No one is going to read it.” “But it’s important. You have to know this.” “It’s too long!” “It’s important.” “Give it to me.” I didn’t read it and, when the crowd eventually cleared, the gentleman at the booth next to mine, a hiring manager from a Fortune 100 company, asked me, “Remember that guy with the long cover letter?” “Yup.” “He didn’t listen to me either!”
Keep your cover letter short. No need for more than five paragraphs and no paragraph longer than a sentence or two. 1) The position you are applying for and where you heard about it. 2) Why you should be considered. 3) The answers to any questions asked (presuming your replying to an ad). 4) Reference to your resume. 5) An appreciative close. And that’s it. Simple.
But let’s get back to Ms. Ninetimp.
“Make it special. Understand what makes your brand unique, and own it.”
That’s the second paragraph. Why should you be considered for the position and not any of the hundred others applying for it? What makes you so special? What’s that one thing you did that sets you apart from the crowd? It’s your elevator pitch. Own it.
Let’s let Ms. Ninetimp finish.
“Finally, make it personal. Know your key consumers and what motivates them; let them see themselves in the brand.”
And that’s the key. The fellow with the long cover letter was only interested in himself. That was his focus: Look at how great I am! Your focus has to be on the employer and what she wants. Because the answer to the second paragraph question, Why should you be considered? is also the answer to the question, What can I do for you? And if that’s your attitude, what you can do for the employer, and not what the employer can do for you, your half way to a job offer.