The much-maligned cover letter can be one of the most difficult parts of a job application; it is often more challenging to write two or three concise paragraphs than it is to write two or three wordy pages. Although the letter can feel like an afterthought or an outdated tradition, it serves several important purposes in a job search.
Make Direct Connections
A hiring manager spends an average of six seconds on each resume — hardly enough time to make complex conclusions about your work history. If you have an unusual background, or if the employer is not familiar with your past positions, this short review period can work against you. The cover letter is your opportunity to make the employer's job easier by drawing direct connections between your experience and the duties of the open position. If your work experience is standard for the industry, the letter gives you the chance to explain why you are a better fit than other candidates.
Show Your Personality
During a job search, you may never meet an employer before sending in a job application. A resume is essentially a list of facts, but the cover letter is a way to show your personality and demonstrate that you would be a strong cultural fit for the company. For this reason, it's important to stay away from stiff, overly formal text. Instead, write in a way that communicates who you are as a professional. Depending on the company, your tone might be irreverent, personal, witty, intelligent or casual — and always professional. If an employer is charmed or intrigued by the letter, you stand a greater chance of scoring an interview.
Provide Additional Facts
A cover letter is an ideal space to provide the employer with additional information about your background that doesn't fit on your resume. For a job that requires communication with international clients, you might use the letter to talk about your extensive world travel or your semester abroad. If you're looking for a job in a new industry, you can use the letter to explain your motivations.
Emphasize Your Insight
When you are applying for a job, a cover letter is a chance to demonstrate your understanding and insight into the open position. It allows you to speak with an insider's tone in a way that a resume cannot, so the employer feels confident in your abilities from the start. When done correctly, this type of writing can establish an instant rapport with the hiring manager, making it easy to view you as a part of the team from the start.
During a busy job search, spending time on a cover letter might be the last thing you want to do. By making the effort, however, you can create a compelling introduction and establish a strong foundation with each employer.
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