There are examples of strategic communication everywhere. In fact, one could speculate that since all of communication is intended to have some specific effect, all communication is strategic – it’s mostly a matter of whether it is effectively or poorly planned and executed.
So, what exactly is strategic communication?
A good definition comes from James P. Farwell’s book Persuasion and Power: “Strategic communication (is) the use of words, actions, images, or symbols to influence the attitudes and opinions of target audiences to shape their behavior in order to advance interests or policies, or to achieve objectives.”
This definition more or less guides numerous public relations and communications experts in political, corporate and many other professional spheres worldwide. And for those in pursuit of a new job, smart strategic communication practices need to be incorporated into your cover letters.
The first steps are to identify your objective and target audience.
The objective obviously is to score an interview for the job. However, the target audience can be trickier to identify. Perhaps it’s the head of the department you would like to join who will receive the application directly. Or, maybe, it’s the manager from human resources screening dozens of CVs and cover letters, and filtering out ones she considers irrelevant. If you’re unsure, it’s important to act as though it will go through HR first.
So, let’s assume it is the latter. Now that you’ve identified your target audience (HR + hiring manager) it’s time to develop your messages to create a story and narrative that defines your intent (requesting an interview for the position), drives a cause (your candidacy for the position), and maintains message discipline (the reasons why you are a highly qualified candidate for the position).
Since you know you are going to be potentially writing for two very different targets, it’s important to tailor your messaging accordingly while creating a narrative and weaving a proper story. A sharp and persuasive cover letter must explain who you are, what your cause is, why you are pursuing it, and how your actions help the target audience. Effective cover letters are as much about the target audience as the job seeker.
HR is not likely to be an expert in your field and will only be inspecting your cover letter for keywords and relevant phrases to justify forwarding your application on to the hiring manager. So, ensure your introduction identifies how you fit the required experience and can fulfill the important duties listed in the job description to satisfy busy human resources staff scanning piles of cover letters. After all, keeping a CV and cover letter out of HR’s trash bin and getting it on the hiring manager’s desk can be half of the battle.
The rest of your cover letter is an opportunity to reinforce to the hiring manager your expertise, and why you will be a great fit for this specific position. Decision makers need to be shown that you are interested in working for them for very specific reasons. Additionally, they want to know how you can make their lives easier – that you can deliver from day one and are no amateur. So analyze the job description and make it crystal clear why you can already meet the most important aspects of the role. Tell an interesting story in the process, one that supports the information on your CV as opposed to simply regurgitating it.
And finally, remember it is critical to be honest.
Strategic communication must be taken into consideration and built into any cover letter (or CV), but no amount of clever messaging can obscure an obvious reality. If you do not meet the requirements do not invent skills or experience that you do not possess — focus on your strengths and figure out how to mitigate your weaknesses.
Doing all of this will make your cover letter one that stands out, and will help you land that interview. Good luck!