So I just spent about two months reviewing resumes. But there’s something I haven’t discussed as much that I’d like to talk about here – how to do a good cover letter. In fact, let’s talk about cover letters for we progeeks.
When people talk cover letters with me, I notice a lot of people just aren’t good at cover letters. Some people know it, some don’t, but in general they’re just not that able to create ones.
At least a lot of people know they’re bad.
Cover letters are extremely vital to your career search, but it seems that if people aren’t too hot at resumes (trust me, they’re not), cover letters are about equally abysmal. I think there’s actually less good advice on cover letters than there needs to be, frankly, so I’m amazed they’re not worse.
I think because cover letters are seen as kind of secondary, sleazy, deliberate lies, unnecessary, etc. It always seems that they’re a second thought to people. They also seem frustrating when I talk to job seekers, which may be another factor in a lack of quality – people hate doing them.
Me I think they’re important. So let’s take a break from resumes (which, trust me, I am damn glad to do), and discuss cover letters – with our usual progeeky touch.
In fact, let’s talk about why they’re important – because that’s the key to doing them right.
They Establish Human Communication
Unless your resume is very engaging, unless your portfolio is very humanized, unless you have just the right media, a resume and such doesn’t always communicate in a human sense. It’s challenging because even if you love resumes, they’re still a summary. They’re like RPG character sheets in a way – pieces but not always the whole.
A cover letter, which is essentially a letter from you to the people reading your resume (albeit generic “people”) is a chance to establish that human touch. You’re not someone at a distance, not a pile stats – you’re a person reaching out to others.
It’s imperative a good cover letter sound like it comes from a person. Yes that person may be desperate for a job, yes there’s some salesmanship, but this is your chance to be a person to those who may interview you.
- If you’re not always that social the cover letter, properly crafted, can actually help – it’s a chance to take time crafting how you want to be heard.
- A good cover letter should give a sense of establishing communication. You’re reaching out.
They Show Personality
People hire people. You’d like to think it’s skills and abilities and experience, but personality, who you are, is a part of what people hire. In no small amount of cases it is a significant part because there are careers where a person suited for a job personality-wise with mediocre skills will succeed better than a more talented person that doesn’t fit. Ever have a job you figured no one else would understand or tolerate? That’s part of it right there.
People also have to know what not to hire. I still recall an interview where the interviewer and I realized at the same time I was just wrong for the contract. Not being hired when you don’t fit a job is a good thing.
Just as a resume doesn’t make a human connection as well as a letter, neither do they show your personality as well as a letter in most cases. Very creative and artistic and clever resumes can show personality, but we’re not all capable of those – nor are they always appropriate for our careers or for the audience we’re trying to reach with a cover letter.
But every job search needs a cover letter.
Your cover letter is a chance to show you. This helps establish a connection but this also shows who you are. It’s a chance for people to connect with you – wether you fit or not.
- Put your personality into your cover letter. If you’re worried that’s a bad thing, you may have to do some personal analysis there.
- Expose the best side of your personality – your goal here is to get the job and so forth, and there’s nothing wrong wit casting yourself in an appropriately good light. People will learn your flaws in time.
- Remember a cover letter can be crafted as well as a resume, so put in the time to make sure it’s “you.”
- Even if your resume is bursting with personality, your cover letter is still going to be the first thing many people see.
Creates A Narrative
Resumes, as I often say, should create a coherent narrative, like any good work of media. Everything from your introduction to your publications should reflect each other. In reflecting each other it makes your career into a story that ends with the words “you’re hired.”
A cover letter is an indispensable part of a career narrative because it’s direct written communication.
The Cover Letter allows you to tell your story in miniature in a format outside the resume. You can explain:
- Who you are.
- Why you’re right for the job.
- What you can do for your potential employer.
And all of this is done in writing, direct to people. A great way to tell a story.
A good cover letter helps establish or enhance the resume you’ve created. Together they’re very powerful, because as the cover letter leads into the resume, each reflecting the other, your story is easier for people to grasp. When it’s easier to grasp, people then are more likely to understand you – and hire you.
(Or I suppose not hire you as noted, but at least for good reasons).
- A good resume helps explain things and tie it together. A good cover letter also explains you coherently and ties into the resume.
- A cover letter is a chance to establish more open narrative that you can’t do in a resume. To an extent it is much more of a “regular story.”
- Cleverly used, a cover letter can also head off any criticisms or gaps in your resume. Maybe you don’t have the industry experience but “you’re glad to have this chance to move into X industry” and so on.
Does Everyone Read Cover Letters?
In my experience, no – but it seems most employers do. I would definitely build a good cover letter just because there’s a chance they’ll read it. Might as well do it right.
So there you go – the reasons to perfect your cover letter and some advice to help you get going. I hope it helps.
And at least it’s not me looking at resumes . . .
– Steven Savage
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.