I’ve put together several posts about resumes here, but I have yet to touch on its more personable free-spirited sibling, the cover letter. And that’s partly because the cover letter’s significance seems to be up for debate. Some places make a big deal about it in their job ads while others don’t even give you the option of uploading one.
I’ll save my gripes with the cover letter for Wednesday. Today, let’s focus on how cover letters are useful.
Resumes can only say so much. Letting your resume tell a potential employer who you are is like giving people chicken, onions, bell peppers, and spices, and hoping that they intuit their way to chicken fajitas; it might work, but it’s not a foolproof plan.
This is where the cover letter comes in. The cover letter is not just your resume in paragraph form. It’s more like your resume’s PR specialist. The cover letter takes what you have in your resume and spins it. It doesn’t just tell a potential employer where you worked; it tells them the kind of employee you were there, what you learned, and how what you learned will translate into you being an even better employee in your next position.
But the cover letter might be most important for the fresh out of school. After all, you spent the last four or so years just on the periphery of the real world. Your resume – chock full of internships, student leadership positions, and work study positions – shows that you’ve gone out of your way to enrich yourself, but it doesn’t explain how you plan on making the transition into a real-deal grown up job.
In this case, the cover letter provides an opportunity for some selective stage lighting. You can cast a spotlight over on that one responsibility from that one internship, illuminate that other thing you did at that other place, and maybe cast some other dimmer lights around at other aspects of your experiences, until you’ve basically managed to Frankenstein together a past job that looks exactly like the one you’re applying to now.
So, in short, cover letters are important because they can expand upon what your resume says and show potential employers who you really are and what you really could be.