Personas for Everyday Use

Recently I found myself helping a friend who was stuck while trying to write the cover letter for a job application. Now I know she's not the only person to have writer's block in this situation. After stumbling around for a while I came upon a solution that will hopefully help you as well:

Write a persona for the recipient of the cover letter. 

Here's how to do it:

  1. I know you already did this step because you are a go-getter:  find out the name and title of the person receiving the letter.
  2. Research the person on LinkedIn. Also try searching on Facebook, the company's website, Twitter, other social media and the web in general. You may even find the person's blog. I lucked out, my person had a LinkedIn profile that was reasonably filled in.
  3. Grab a photo of the person and drop it into a new document. Add the basic personal information you found including name, title, company, location and a guess at the person's age.
  4. Generally give an outline of the past few job titles, companies and years. Begin to develop these in a more story-like sentence structure like "In 2001 Tom moved from his career as mailman into a tech support position at IBM."
  5. Now think about that move. If you were Tom why would you have moved into that next job? What drove that decision? Add that motivation into your story.
  6. Does the person have a specialty? What did the person list in the summary at the top of LinkedIn? How are these related to this biography you're fleshing out? Put those thoughts into the story too. Write like a biographer.
  7. Finally, when you really have a handle on this person put yourself throughly into his or her shoes. Be the person you are writing to. Now imagine yourself reviewing job candidates. Who are you looking for? What qualities do you need in order to know the person you are hiring will work well with you? What do you really need this job applicant to do? What problems will this person fix? What one thing will grab your attention enough to pick up the phone right away? Write all those thoughts and qualities down.
  8. Now you know who will be reading this cover letter. Speak to that person. Talk about how you are going to solve those specific problems using the qualities you have that align with that person's needs.

Here is what I wrote for her. Of course I changed the specifics and photo and made up company names before posting here.

Director Lady for Persona
Director Lady for Persona

Carolyn Smith President and Owner Super Education IT Company 53 yrs old, Dallas, TX

Carolyn taught school from 1992-2002, during a boom in technology use in educational settings.

As an educator herself she had a keen sense of the time and energies spent by teachers on overhead, organization and communication. Carolyn found she had a knack for understanding technology and had a vision that she could help ease these burdens on teachers so they could concentrate on their true passion and goal: educating students.

In 2002 she threw herself into this new vision and started Super Education IT Company as a focus for this solution. To facilitate this further, Carolyn became Director of the Fancy Education Research Laboratory to research and design online curricular resources. She also began writing a regular column in The Online Magazine for Educators, publishing articles that provided practical tips and policy suggestions regarding intelligent use of learning technologies.

Under Carolyn’s direction Super Education IT Company continued to grow, leading her to focus completely on the business and setting aside her column and the Fancy Education Research Laboratory in 2006.

Keeping up-to-date on the latest technologies in order to best benefit educators, Super Education IT Company currently takes advantage of cloud computing resources in its web applications.

Carolyn’s self described specialties are: - putting clients first, - supporting and inspiring people, - developing business partnerships and strategy, - designing compelling and relevant products

Carolyn looks for the following characteristics when she brings new people on board:
- passionate about education
- articulate, able to express ideas clearly
- keen to assist clients / commitment to serve
- striving to better him/herself
- awareness that what you do & who you are reflects upon the company

Now get writing!