As a candidate, you may wonder, Why bother to write a cover letter? After all, you have many job-hunting tools in your arsenal if you know how to use them. Writing a good resume, researching the company, and practicing interview questions with a friend are just a few. But one valuable tool that many candidates underestimate is the cover letter.
Not all candidates attach a cover letter with their resume. But were you aware that many recruiters and hiring managers do use them to prescreen candidates? As a recruiter, I certainly read the cover letters I receive as one quick way to learn about the kind of person I am considering for the job.
A cover letter is a concise way to communicate your value to a company. It can actually tell a potential employer a lot about yourself–either good or bad. I will honestly tell you that not all cover letters are usable. Some have multiple grammar or spelling errors and just don’t portray the best side of the candidate. But a well-written cover letter can demonstrate your attention to detail, good grammar, proper word usage, and overall intelligence level. In some cases, it can actually be the tool that gives you the competitive edge you need to land your dream job!
Last month I was working on a high-level position with one of my favorite clients. It just happened that two of the three qualified candidates submitted their resume to me with a cover letter. (The third had obviously thought, Why bother to write a cover letter?) All three resumes were great and the candidates were very well spoken on the phone, but I was happy to have a third reference in the form of a cover letter to further qualify two of the candidates. One cover letter looked fabulous. It was grammatically correct, the candidate was thorough, and it looked very professional. The other candidate’s cover letter, however, had two grammatical errors, and the format was not pleasing to the eye. Because this position required technical writing, I immediately disqualified the candidate.
After submitting the two remaining candidates, the candidate with the cover letter was hired. My client called me after both candidates’ final interviews and said that it was a very close race. She said that the quality of the cover letter was what gave the hired candidate the edge on the other candidate in her decision.
Why bother to write a cover letter? It may be the only reason your resume gets a first look. Employers want to know if you have the ability to communicate, and the cover letter augments your resume in showing off your written communication skills. So the next time you apply for a job, be sure to include a well-written cover letter (click here for some samples from Monster.com). If it gets your foot in the door, you’ll be glad you went to the extra effort.