What is the point of a cover letter, anyway?
Why is a Cover Letter So Important?
When I was a hiring manager, I always paid very close attention to the cover letters that came with a candidate's resume, as they often told me more about each person than their resume ever could.
But before we get underway, let me tell you what a cover letter is NOT. It must NEVER be just a bulleted rehash of what is in your resume. “Why?”, you ask. “Aren’t I supposed to demonstrate why I am a perfect fit for the position?”. The answer is yes, you do need to do that, but that is what your resume is supposed to do!
Your cover letter should explain why you are qualified for the position through giving an insight into your personality. What characteristics do you have that may not be listed in the job advertisement? Too often these so-called “soft skills” go unmentioned in a resume, so it is essential that your cover letter touches on them. The cover letter also gives the manager a good idea of your communication skills.
We all know that a resume is a formal document outlining your career, your achievements, qualifications, and job history. But it does not easily lend itself to being a discussion document in an interview. Your cover letter, on the other hand, allows you to point out links between the requirements of the job and statements in your resume, including your soft skills. It also acts as a short overview of how your experience matches what the hiring manager is looking for.
For example, let us imagine that you are a recent college graduate who manned an IT help desk as a student worker, and you are applying for a similar position in the computer department at a company. Not only could you draw their attention to your degree, but you could also show that you have relevant expertise, e.g. “In addition to my bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Anytown, I also manned the institution’s Help Desk as a student worker. I received several letters of appreciation over the three years that I worked there from customers and managers alike. These letters applauded me for my levels of outstanding customer service and success rate on help desk calls. I would be more than willing to share those affidavits with you during an interview.”
Do you see what I mean? The cover letter humanizes all the wonderful things that you have achieved in your life and have listed on your resume. Further, a good cover letter helps a hiring manager understand the experiences you have listed in your resume and clearly link them to the duties that they expect to be carried out in their opportunity.
To paraphrase an old selling technique:
Tell ‘em what you are going to sell them (“I am applying for the position of x within your organization and believe the following qualities make me a perfect fit”).
Sell it to them (link those qualities with what they are looking for).
Tell them what you have just sold them (“So as I think you will agree, I feel that I am the perfect person for your position”).
Close the sale! (“I would welcome an opportunity to discuss the position further with you in an interview”).
That's all for this week. I'll be posting a new blog entry next week but, as always if you have a subject that you would like me to talk about, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.