Not too long ago, while reading through cover letters and résumés for a recently filled editorial position, I was reminded of the importance of a tailored message and how the more finely honed that tailoring is, the more powerful the message becomes.
As anyone who has reviewed a pile of job applications can attest, there’s a huge difference between those generic (even relatively generic) cover letters and résumés and the ones that convey a genuine interest in the position and company at hand. You’re happy to offer the job to someone with relevant experience, but you’re downright overjoyed when you can offer the job to someone with great experience, a passion for the same areas of expertise, and a familiarity with your company’s mission and goals…not to mention a winning personality.
The more details and insights applicants had into our company—from our websites to our mission of connecting students with schools that fit and vice versa—the more they stuck with us. The more impressive the balance of unique personal narrative and professional prose, the more we wanted to speak with them in person. From a sizable pool of applicants, it was those who not only demonstrated editorial savvy and pertinent experience but those who we could imagine working next to day after day, trusting with our message and products, that we called in for interviews.
It’s a pretty common and universally applicable metaphor, but I’m going to run with it anyway: job applicants need to sell themselves, to differentiate themselves from the pack, to show they’d be a good fit. And, certainly, students mired in the college application process need to sell themselves, but schools need to do some selling too. From the institutes of technology to the liberal arts colleges to the medium-sized master’s universities: everyone wants to attract ideal potential students. Your copy should speak to the kinds of students you want to attract—the potential electrical engineer, history major, aspiring M.B.A.—selling your unique programs and strengths in an authentic voice…and, yes, portraying that winning personality. Your marketing efforts should make the institution, its offerings, and its location come alive to potential students and make you stand out amongst competitors.
I imagine my pouring over cover letters is akin to admission counselors reading application essays, being swept away by those that rise above with their character and authenticity, getting the feeling that those students could be a good fit for the institution and vice versa. But that’s just the thing: it’s a two-way street. We all want applicants to convey passion and personality, but to attract the right candidates, our copy should do so as well.