Cover Letters with a Purpose

You’ll hear conflicting advice about using cover letters, depending on whom you choose to ask. However, I believe they can and should fulfill an important and useful purpose: giving you an additional chance to reinforce the value message your resume is (I hope) communicating to potential employers. Not all cover letters are created equal, though, so it’s important to think more deeply about the subject. For example, if the letter doesn’t strongly position you in the eyes of employers, it’s a waste of time and space.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted a recruiter survey that found 80%+ of recruiters consider cover letters essential to a job search. I’m not clear on whether this is strictly internal recruiters (HR personnel), but given the nature of the survey, I suspect it is. That said, it’s important to note that making your submissions through HR is not the fastest or most effective way to reach hiring managers—but that’s a topic for a different blog post.

I often get asked what a cover letter should include, what it should look like, and so on. The answer depends heavily on your individual situation and goals, the kinds and levels of opportunities and organizations you are targeting, and a variety of other factors. I consider the following among the most important elements to include:
1. Value you can offer the employer to whom you are submitting your resume and cover letter.
2. Relevance to the company and the employment opportunity—avoid including information that is rambling, too detailed or biographical in nature, etc.
3. Reinforcement of key points that appear in the resume but might not necessarily stand out as much there as you’d like for the targeted opportunity.

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