Every so often I look at Linkedin Today for career and recruiting news pertaining to job search and the written word. Many articles appear on various ideas about resumes and cover letters. It seems one of the most popular ways to view cover letters focuses on their general lack of importance. So I wanted to stick up for an old friend right now. Cover letters still make a difference. They still matter in this clouded world of applications that include a myriad of online forms and cut and paste text boxes that seems to rule that landscape of online job search applications. Now video resumes, web resumes and online portfolios can be submitted through a one touch push button of your bio to an employer, sort of like you have it on Linked In. I would assign a lot of merit to these new ways to apply to jobs. For the employer it synergies energy and provides uniformity to the view of applicants. All of these methods seem to undercut the age-old importance of the cover letter. In ancient days employers would say to me that “cover letters make the difference” and “if I can’t get past the cover letter then I won’t even read the resume” but that’s not the prevailing wisdom of today.
Regardless of the application vehicle I believe a powerful covering statement may make the difference between candidates and allow you to differentiate yourself to an employer.
Here are some of the reasons cover letters can separate you in competitive fields:
1. A Unique Vehicle – perhaps no other vehicle can immediately tell a potential employer that you understand their needs and can differentiate yourself immediately from other candidates. Cover letters could and perhaps should be viewed as your opening argument, setting the tone about why you understand and are a unique fit to any employers specific needs. A cover letter sets a tone and sets up the final argument – the resume – in a unique way. If you merely summarize points in the resume and your cover letter sounds staged then it may be a useless vessel. Handled right, your cover letter addresses the audience like a great speech or speechmaker. A cover letter sends a message, a theme and guides a reader through what separates you from the masses. Can you make your argument quickly and powerfully? A cover letter provides you a unique opportunity.
2. Your Writing Sample – a cover letter may be the best way to evaluate your argument and your writing sample. In almost all jobs employers want to know you can communicate verbally and in writing. Whether the potential employer views your resume material first or cover letter material first, the cover letter is often viewed as an indication of how well you communicate. A boiler plate “Dear Employer” generic cover letter doesn’t help your case but a focused, uniquely formatted and succinctly written statement about why your relevant qualifications, passions and interest match employer requirements makes it hard for a hiring authority to dispense with you. Today resumes can be very creatively built as functional and chronological visual documents in Microsoft Word. Resumes often butcher language down to emphasize achievements in non-complete sentences. All of these resume customs, done consistently, can show brevity and powerful language. To communicate in complete sentence there may be no better vehicle then a cover letter.
3. Your Competition Doesn’t Care – because the prevailing wisdom of jobseekers and the general masses say that cover letters are dead, writing a powerful argument outlining your unique qualifications absolutely sets you apart. Even if your cover letter appears in pieces or a box in an online application you can set yourself apart from other candidates who leave those “stupid cover letter boxes” empty. Just because the prevailing wisdom says don’t waste time on the cover letter may be the reason that you must take time to write each cover letter directly suited to your audience. A custom-made, personal and professional introduction can make all the difference when your competition provides no such entre. The cover letter uniquely sets you apart because it nearly carries the sound of your voice into the hiring authorities ear. If you had a chance to talk to a person (which is what you want to win the job) your voice would sound more like a cover letter than the staccato sounding, parceled nature of the resume. Because your competition doesn’t care and they follow the masses that’s exactly why you need a great cover letter to stand out.
Take a moment to think clearly about what you are trying to accomplish. Today many employers don’t seem to require the age-old cover letter. Most jobseekers treat it like a silly formality so they don’t spend much time thinking through it. It’s an optional item that seems to be on the way out like, perhaps, a traditional paper greeting card. You may want to reconsider the power of the spoken word and the voice a cover letter gives you in the highly competitive world of job search. Set yourself apart from the prevailing job search wisdom and create a powerful and audience focused argument for you.
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