Advantages of Cover Letters

Are cover letters necessary?

shutterstock_311619221I’m often asked this at job search workshops. Many people, especially recruiters, believe they are not. This is satisfying to hear – after all, cover letters are hard! Why put in the effort if no one is reading them? The hard truth however, is that a properly written cover letter is a huge competitive advantage.

The problem is this, most people write them poorly. A cover letter isn’t the place to summarize your resume – it’s the place to talk about your passion, the things you have learned, and how both will contribute to meeting the challenges of the job. Here are some advantages of a well written cover letter:

1)  You have an opportunity to be more personal. Specifically, it allows you to show your passion, your motivation, and aspects of your personality relevant to the position or company. You simply can’t do this with a resume.

2)  It allows you to explain (not summarize!) how specific experiences in your work history will contribute to success in this job.

3)  You can lay out your plan for success in the role. Start by identifying the challenge (either as stated in the job posting, or based on your understanding) then specify the steps you would take, and why they are important for success. End with your anticipated result.

4)  They can provoke discussion during the interview. Something you wrote in your cover letter may lead to some “off script” questions. This is good – the more you can turn an interview into a discussion, the more easily you can bond with your future boss.

5)  You can demonstrate your research on the position and the company. The goal here is to build their confidence, and demonstrate your understanding of the context in which they operate and the challenges inherent in their goals.

6)  They can demonstrate your written and general communication skills. Nearly every job ad I see lists “strong written and verbal communication skills.” Let a well-crafted cover letter being living proof of this.

7)  A well written cover letter demonstrates your ability to persuade and make an argument. In many roles you will need to advocate, or lobby for resources, or “sell” a project, product, or justify a decision.

8)  A cover letter is where you explain about a relevant skill that may not be immediately apparent from your work experience.

9)  A well written letter makes you memorable. This could set you apart when the manager is making the final decision between you and another candidate.

10)  Finally, it can set you up for success in your new role. For all of the reasons listed above, a well written letter can contribute to the confidence your new boss and organization has in you. This will make it easier for you to get “buy-in” on decisions, support for your efforts, and approval to take risks (and possibly, some forgiveness if you get negative results).