Resumes are often considered the central pillar of any effective job search, but if you think your resume can get you in the door all by itself, think again. Even the most brilliant resume in the world needs an introductory letter, the way a brilliant painting gets much more attention if it’s pulled out of a dusty basement, placed in a gold frame, and hung in a museum. In the job search as in life, framing is everything.
Without a great cover letter, a resume is just a lifeless list of credentials with no voice and no context.
Here are five reasons why cover letters are vital to the application process.
1. Cover letters set the tone. When you walk into a room, smile, and extend your hand for a shake, you’ve already made a first impression. Even before you say a word, your clothes, you stride, your expression and a hundred other details already establish the nature of this interaction and forecast how the next scene will play out. Cover letters do the same thing. Your voice and the register and rhythm of your sentences will speak volumes about you, even before managers find out where you earned your degree.
2. Cover letters generate interest. The hiring process is expensive, primarily because it takes up so much time, and managers would otherwise be spending this time focused on making money. So smart managers try to keep the staffing process as lean and fast as they possibly can without cutting corners. If a cover letter doesn’t look promising, the rest of the application will get only a cursory review (if any). But if the letter is intriguing and clever, managers will happily invest time and effort in a closer examination.
3. Cover letters add life and dimension to a flat list of credentials. If you left one job two years before beginning the next one, or left a career as a Wall Street broker in order to pursue epidemiology, this leaves managers with plenty of questions about what kind of person you are and what influenced you to make these decisions. An interview can answer some of these questions, but in the meantime, a great introductory letter can cover some of the gaps.
4. Cover letters present information that doesn’t belong in a formal resume. A cover letter can be used to remind your reader that you both attended the same classes in college, or you both worked together on a contract ten years ago. It can highlight mutual experiences, friendships, and industry events that can draw a connection between the reader and the writer.
5. Most important of all, cover letters help readers navigate the details of a resume by directing their attention to specific highlights and credentials. You may have 10 great selling points as an applicant, but your letter will help you draw your reader’s attention to the three strongest and most memorable reasons why you should be hired, instead of someone else. Visit LiveCareer and use the site’s Cover Letter Builder to make sure you’re getting the most out of this critical element of your portfolio.