It seems so old-fashioned, a cover letter for a resume. In an age where (some) people have to be explained with patience why casual throwaway grammar or texting abbreviations do not belong on a job application, one needs to take a long and hard look at how to not let the cover letter fall by the wayside. Actually, one simple idea in defense of the cover letter should do – if you don’t have a long and varied range of experience in your career, if you are a relative fresher, your prospective employer always, always expects a cover letter. The hiring manager who looks at a sensitively and capably written cover letter is inevitably going to be drawn by the expressiveness on display, and is going to want to know your resume better. The cover letter, as is probably self-evident, is your opening act for the headliner that is your resume – the Jonny Winters to your resume’s Led Zeppelin. It’s supposed to get your prospective employer all worked up about what is to come.
So here’s a little I have gathered in my years looking closely at the effect cover letters have on hiring managers and job recruiters. Inevitably, an all-purpose salutation doesn’t go over as well as a personal address does. Openers like “Dear Sir or Madam” easily tell them that you didn’t even put in the work to learn if they are men or women. That’s not going to look so friendly when the next application has someone who’s taken the trouble to call ahead, and find out all about the hiring manager’s name and even how to spell it (Tailor, and not Taylor). A cover letter for resume is meant to be short and to the point. It certainly should never exceed a page, unless you have something super great to say past that. As much as the cover letter is about you, it is only about you as long as it serves the hiring manager’s interests in hiring you. If you did very well at college basketball, that might not really be any of his business at this point. He just wants to know why your resume is supposed to be important to him; so that’s all you need to tell him.
A cover letter for a resume is supposed to be something that gets the hiring manager personally interested in you. So you need to have everything in there, custom written for that particular company, for that particular job. Let’s say your job has a lot to do with putting together a top-notch customer service unit for a cell phone maker. You need to play up your technical prowess, your organizing skills and the accomplishments in your past that play up your ability to speak to the tech heads and the customers. If you put in a generic cover letter that says something not entirely applicable – like how great you were at being an assembly line foreman at a previous job, you must make no more than a mention of it. The idea also is to play up your assets, without laboring the point. As far as possible, try to describe your aptness for the job by putting in specifics. That way, you make your point and yet don’t tend to sound so cocky. If instead of explaining how your customer service organizing skills have resulted in a 98% satisfaction vote for customers at your previous job, you just say that you have magical people skills, that might not look so good.
And in the end, a cover letter for a resume, not to mention the resume itself, is all about the truth. You are allowed to spin the truth a little, but you can’t bend it.