This simple phrase You have a problem, I have a solution” is at the core of most advertising. Whether you are creating a radio ad, website, brochure or cover letter for a job, you earn the right to talk about yourself when you prove you understand my problem.

  • Do you suffer from…?
  • Are you worried about…?
  • Many business owners are concerned with…
  • 40% of new moms…

Leading with a question or statement like these immediately divides the world into two groups: those with the problem and those without. The group without the problem probably won’t continue to pay attention to the rest of the advertisement,  but that’s okay, because they aren’t a potential customer. But if you skip this step entirely, many prospects will skip over your ad completely.

Advertising 101:

  1. Identify your customer’s problem
  2. Explain how you can solve it

These rules are equally true in all sorts of marketing and professional communication–even cover letters. Recently, we had a batch of cover letters who all, unfortunately, failed at step one and skipped right to step two.

Don’t Talk about You First

The first cover letter began with a four paragraph explanation of why the candidate decided to become a graphic designer. The phrase “It all began with a phone call”  may be a wonderful opening line for a novel or a blog post, but not a cover letter.  Honestly, I didn’t care. Why should I? Nothing in those first four paragraphs demonstrated that she cared about me, my company or our needs.

Know My Name

The next was actually a brief, well-written letter in which the candidate described his skills and what he was looking for.  The problem? It was obviously a form letter. There was no personalization, nothing to indicate he had spent any time on our website. Something as simple as addressing the cover letter to me or inserting the name of our company would have been a great start.

Of course, the fact that he left the name of the previous company in the letter sealed his fate. No call from Roundpeg. 

I have come to the conclusion that many of these candidates have mistaken me for their mother. She may have thought everything they did was wonderful, but I don’t. (I reserve that level of blind approval for my own children.)

Do Your Homework

If you want to make a sale, you need to stand outin a good way. Get attention by demonstrating you know something about the prospect. “I have been to your website, and I love what you guys do. I noticed you don’t have an opening currently, but would you be open to a short conversation. I would love to meet your team (cats included) so you will know who I am if an opportunity arises.” This is someone I want to meet.

There is actually a third element to great advertising: The proof. The statement or better yet the actions which demonstrate you are qualified to solve my problem. What type of proof can you offer in a cover letter? Links to portfolios, writing samples, blogs and recommendations are a good start, but remember that actions speak louder then words.

 When you say you are “detail oriented,” consider doing more then just a quick spell check. “Resent” and “add” are real words but shouldn’t be used in the following sentence: “Here is a resent example of an add I designed for a class project.”

 I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. Getting an interview or getting a prospect to return your call isn’t that hard if you remember that one of the  most compelling reasons to say yes  is the belief  you care about solving their problem, and you have the skills to do what you promise.