Don't underestimate the importance of a cover letter

By Donn LeVie Jr.

Career Connection: Building your professional career

Every so often someone asks me, "Do I really need a cover letter these days, even when a job ad doesn't ask for one?" Some hiring managers think that cover letters are a waste of time because they say they don't read them. Well, they often don't read them because some job seekers write cover letters poorly as an afterthought instead of developing them with purpose. However, if you write your cover letter correctly, it will be another document in your portfolio that attests to your professional expertise and your brand. It summarizes at a high level — with a touch of marketing panache — the accomplishments and capabilities detailed on your résumé with only minimal explicit verbatim repetition.

You'll write your best cover letters after you've polished your résumé in much the way a book author writes the preface after finishing the manuscript. Your cover letter, containing some raw materials from your résumé, then will propel hiring managers back to your résumé.

Those hiring managers who don't read cover letters and go directly to résumés often miss out on candidates who might be a notch above the competition simply by how they're selling their professional brands. And then hiring managers who just scan résumés might inadvertently pass over the problem solver, the solutions provider and/or the game changer — all whom their teams or companies need.

The cover letter is another form of documentation in what I call the Professional Skills, Knowledge and Experience (PSKE™) Portfolio that attests to your professional brand. The consultant's cover letter says: I understand your business and the issues you face every day. Call me when you need that value-added professional who has a demonstrated record of accomplishment and success.


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