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The Secret to Writing Cover Letters: Job Deconstruction

To write a good cover letter, you need to learn how to deconstruct the job description

Do not skip this exercise - it can make an enormous difference to your job search and to your entire future career development. It will tell you precisely how to prioritise the information you offer employers, give you examples for your letters, and a new way of understanding what it is you actually get paid for.

The exercise will also tell you the topics you are most likely to be asked about at interviews and prepare you with suggestions for answers to those questions.

The Target Job Deconstruction Technique

Step 1:

Collect 5-6 job ads or online postings for jobs you are best qualified to do and jobs you would enjoy.

Step 2:

Create a new document and title it ‘TJD for (your chosen job title).’

Step 3:

Copy and paste in all the variations in job titles from your samples. From this, you can come up with a generic Target Job Title to use in your cover letters (and as a target job title for your CV) that is likely to have the widest response.

Step 4:

Add a second subhead to the TJD: ‘Skills/Responsibilities/Requirements/Competencies, etc.

Step 5:

Look through your job postings (print them out and spread them across your desk). You are looking for a requirement that is common to all of your job postings. When you find both the requirement and the most complete description of it, copy and paste it into your document beneath the second subhead (with a 6 beside it, signifying it is common to all six of your samples).

Step 6:

Repeat the exercise, but now consider requirements common to five of the jobs, then four, all the way down to one. You now have something unique: a template for how employers prioritize and express their needs when they hire someone like you.

Step 7:

At their most elemental level, all jobs focus on problem identification, avoidance and solution. Imagine yourself, for a moment, as a manager looking at a cover letter and accompanying CV. Is this exactly the person you are looking for? When you as a job seeker register the underlying problem-solving nature of your target job, you gain a valuable insight into the mind of every recruiter, interviewer and manager you are ever going to meet.

Step 8:

Now go back to your TJD and start with that first requirement- the one common to all six job postings. Note the problems you will typically need to identify, solve and/or prevent. Then list specific examples, big and small, of successful identification, prevention and/or solution to such problems that you’ve performed in the past.

Step 9:

Repeat this with each of the TJD’s other requirements. You’ll want to include some of these examples in your cover letter, some in your CV, and some in your interview as ammunition to answer all those questions that begin ‘Tell me about a time when…’

Step 10:

Look at each of the competencies/requirements you identified in steps 5 and 6, and for each one think of the best person you have ever seen doing this job and what made him or her stand out. Describe his or her performance, professional behaviour, interaction with others, and appearance. This is the behavioural profile interviewers want to see in your cover letters, your CV and at job interviews, and this is the person that they would love to see showing up at work every day. In fact, this is the exact behavioural profile of the person who gets welcomed into the inner circle and gets the plum assignments, pay rises and promotions. Repeat this behavioural identification exercise for each and every requirement listed in your TJD.

Step 11:

Think of the worst person you have ever seen doing this job and answer for yourself what made that person stand out in such a negative way. Describe his or her performance, professional behaviours, interaction with others, and appearance. You are describing the person that no one wants to hire or work with.

Once you complete and review your TJD, you will have a clear idea of exactly the way all employers think about, prioritize and express their needs when they hire someone for the job you want. This tells you exactly the points to put in your cover letter that are most likely to get a positive response and prepares you in other ways for job interviews and for success in the job you ultimately choose as your next step.

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