Having spent a good deal of the last 2 wks seiving through cover letters and resumes for applications from Student at Bschools I have realised two things:
a) Students have no clue about who is the customer and who is the buyer in the early parts of the hiring scenario (Even though the latter part the student is very much the customer - where the company is trying to sell him/her on the firm!)
b) Students these days have Zero creativity and have resorted to mediocre means of displaying lack of creativity.
Here are some examples:
* Only 50% of the applications had a cover letter. I do not know what other recruiters say - but to me a cover letter is what gives you character over a resume especially if the recruiter has no clue about the student or have any prior relationship. Therefore the 50% of the students who wrote a cover letter - stood out ... Just because they wrote one!
* Almost 90% of the cover letters I read started with the words "As a student in the XYZ school of business at ABC University, I am good in P, Q and R". Compare this with the other cover letter I had which went "I want to run my own business and make big decisions in the next 10 yrs and I think Microsoft is a great place to start my first few steps towards reaching my goals..." All of a sudden this person was ranked #1 on the list of 40 resumes! He stood out head & shoulders above the rest.
* Then on to the content. Students have always resorted to "here is what I want, here is what I like - Hence I am a fit for a job". Seriously when was the last time a salesman came to your door and said "I need to sell 30 of these Ginzu Knives and make atleast $500 today. Therefore you should buy this knife"? As opposed to "This Knife rocks. I know you have other knives in your place but this knives cuts through a coke can like butter...." Sure you are never going to do that - but thats an awesome demo right there defining the value proposition (albeit without quantitative backing) of a product and hypothesizing on why I should buy the knife. I dont see recruiting any different. SELL SELL SELL! IT is all about What can YOU bring to the table! Why YOU? Why not Joe Schmoe who sits next to you?
* And on to the one qn I hate "So.... What is the culture like in your firm". Seriously thats a qn that immediately states you have no clue about anything and are trying to make a pathetic attempt at a conversation. Solution: Prepare, practice and have ideas that make the other person interested and want to talk to you.
So yes - despite the million cover letter books you see in B&N and Amazon - its still amazing how very few folks really use it! Shame.