You’ve just spent several hours preparing your resume. Now you think to yourself, Do I need a cover letter? It’s a fair question. Most people don’t really understand the function of a cover letter or why they might need one. After all, doesn’t your resume contain all the information a job recruiter would need to know in order to qualify you for an interview?
To gain an insight into the real importance of a cover letter, job recruiters were randomly asked to give their opinion on the importance of cover letters. While all agreed that a cover letter is important, about two-thirds said that they would read a resume anyway even if it arrived without a cover letter. The other third placed more importance on cover letters. They said that in some cases, but not all, they might discard a resume that was missing a cover letter. Interestingly, less than 5 percent said they would never read a resume if it did not contain a cover letter.
What A Cover Letter Will Never Do
A cover letter will never get you a job that you are not qualified for. Job recruiters are busy people and some of the busiest may have to work through several hundred resumes per day. When it comes to filling a position, the first two things they look for are education and experience. If these don’t make the grade, in all probability they will not even look at your cover letter.
What Does a Cover Letter Do?
Think of applying for a job as going through a series of gates. The first set of gates is education and experience. These are grouped together because in most cases a recruiter will substitute one for the other. That is, if a job candidate lacks the prerequisites in education, experience is often accepted as a good substitute. Likewise, a better education can be used to make up for a lack of experience.
Once the job candidate makes it through the first set of gates, it’s the other, more subtle qualifications that begin to weigh in on his or her chances of securing a job offer. It’s not uncommon for a typical recruiter to locate only 20 or 30 qualified candidates out of 500 resumes. If you make it to that small selective group, your chances of being called in for an interview increase substantially. But this is the time when your cover letter really matters if you want to make it through the next set of gates. Since recruiters are busy people and their time is limited, they may select only 5 to 10 candidates out of the original 20 to 30 for the actual interview. You can be certain that employers will do everything possible to make sure that the 5 to 10 candidates they do call in for an interview are the very best qualified out of that initial group.
The Function of a Good Cover Letter
You can think of your resume as a sort of generic overview of your job qualifications. A good resume should list all the technical details of your employment and educational history without delving too far into the more human, personal side of the equation. The cover letter, on the other hand, is you talking personally, one-on-one, to the recruiter. It is the precursor to the interview and should amplify the human side of your qualifications. It should answer two basic questions:
- who you are and
- why you think you will be an asset to their company.
The cover letter should leave the recruiter with the feeling, this is someone I want to meet in person to further discuss your interest in working for the company. You could also think of the cover letter as a sort of tie-breaker. When it finally comes down to the handful of resumes that have more-or-less the same technical qualifications, it will be the cover letter that determines who will get the interview and who will be passed over. Stated simply, it’s the function of the cover letter to get you an interview.
A good cover letter should answer the following questions:
- Which job or type of job you are applying for
- How you found out about the job
- Why your qualifications make you a good fit for the job
- Why you believe you will be an asset to their company
Keep in mind that your cover letter does not work in a vacuum. In all likelihood, the recruiter is only reading your cover letter because he or she liked your resume. Use your cover letter to embellish and highlight points you made about yourself in your resume that may have been hastily read or overlooked. Remember, recruiters often just scan a resume for certain technical details the first time through. Use your cover letter to entice them to want to read your resume through one more time, slowly and carefully this time.