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Why a Resume Needs a Cover Letter

1 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Cover Letters

When your cover letter attracts interest, employers read your resume to confirm a positive first impression. Other employers review your resume before a cover letter. In either case, the trick is to make your cover letter and resume qualify for the short stack of keepers, not the big pile that gets passed over. In this competitive job market, cover letters are more important than ever before.

Five hallmarks define a standout cover letter, separating it from a one- or two-sentence yawner:

  • Strong personalization

  • High energy

  • Relevant information

  • Moderately informal

  • Interesting to read

An effective cover letter is worth every minute you spend working it up for these reasons:

  • Makes a good first impression: As your first knock on the door, a cover letter grabs the attention of a hiring professional: “Hey, look at me! I have the qualifications that you need to make money for you or to save money for you. Here’s what I can do for you!”

  • Puts focus on an employer: The cover letter focuses on the employer, in contrast to the resume, which focuses on you.

  • Sells your benefits: By correlating an employer’s requirements with your top competencies and skills, your knowledge, your work experience, and your achievements, you can believably claim that a specific organization is a perfect place for you to make a valuable contribution.

  • Shows savvy without boasting: A cover letter demonstrates your ability to understand and fulfill a company’s specific needs. It shows that you are smart enough — and committed enough — to scout the company’s products, services, markets, and employment needs.

  • Warms up your audience: A cover letter presells your attractiveness as a candidate. It predisposes the hiring professional to like you, forming an image of you as qualified, personable, and superior among competitors in a high stack of applications.

  • Keeps a measure of control: A cover letter puts a degree of control in your hands. It sets up a reason for you to call an employer, if an employer doesn’t beat you to the phone. By promising to call within a given time frame, when you do call you can truthfully get past a gatekeeper by saying that your call is expected.

  • Indicates that you do good work: A cover letter is evidence that you’re able, knowledgeable, talented, and that you take pride in your work. By contrast, a poor and boring letter suggests that your work will be poor and boring.

  • Confirms critical thinking skills: A cover letter shows the employer how your mind works — how you formulate ideas and pull them together into a rationale that makes sense. Moreover, your cover letter proves that you can communicate your thoughts in writing.

  • Takes years off your image: If you’re a job hunter more than 15 years out of school, make a point of showing that you don’t believe the way you worked yesterday is necessarily the best way to work today and tomorrow. Mention major changes a target industry is undergoing and explain what you’ve done to keep pace.

  • Knocks on new doors: When your most recent work experience is different from the career field you want to enter, use your cover letter to accent your skills that best match the new field. Should you mention why you want to switch? Generally, no; doing so just calls attention to your less-than-perfect match for the job.

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