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Do Cover Letters Still Matter?

By Nicole Cavazos

There was a time when it was easy to BS … er, I mean, finesse your way through a job application. All it took was a skillfully written cover letter and resume to, shall we say, exaggerate your qualifications and experience. These days it’s not so easy.

With the Internet at his or her disposal, an employer is able to piece together a much more accurate depiction of your work history, professional network and personality.

And LinkedIn is making it almost unnecessary to submit a resume or cover letter at all. Why bother, when the site can provide a more thorough profile of you? Not only does LinkedIn offer a summary bio and work history, but also professional recommendations, links to portfolios and projects, professional associations, evidence of current activity, and even pictures.

But has the resume and cover letter become obsolete?

Not quite yet. This is especially true for resumes. Today many employers still prefer that you email a resume with samples of your work. It’s just easier to open an email and access that information rather than having to go online every time.

The cover letter is a little trickier. Many employers and recruiters just can’t be bothered to read through a letter that is basically a fluffy promotional piece. In fact, it’s probable that the majority of cover letters are passed over for the real meat and potatoes – your resume and samples.

Additionally, many companies make it impossible for you to even submit a cover letter by requiring you to fill out online applications in which there’s no field for a cover letter.

That said, there’s still a place for cover letters, even in today’s virtual world.

For one, there are some employers who still read them. And for them, it’s especially important that it presents you in the best light. Also, the best job lead is one obtained from networking or a personal reference. In that case, a cover letter is indispensable.

However, it’s important to remember that the letter is not a summary of your resume. It’s a moment for you to describe in a couple of paragraphs why you are absolutely perfect for the job.

Connect the Dots

Nothing beats a well-written cover letter to sell yourself in a way that bullet points cannot. Sometimes an employer needs some help in understanding how the facts on paper translate into an ideal candidate. Here’s your chance to flesh it out, bring into focus a specific time when your skills or expertise helped your company thrive.

Highlight What Matters

Along the same lines, cover letters give you a chance to showcase your specific talents or highlight moments of your job history without reverting to chronology. This gives you a chance to pull together disparate facts on a resume to create narrative themes running through your career. For instance, you can elaborate on your experience as a creative problem solver or your particular ability to create compelling marketing campaigns.

Speak Directly to Your Reader

Just as you wouldn’t write an anonymous personal letter to a friend, don’t make the same mistake with a cover letter. Remember who you are talking to and sound like a human, not a robot. Say why you want to work for their company and what you can bring to the table. Show what you know about them and their industry. And tailor the letter so that it’s relevant to what they’re looking for.

Most importantly, remember that a cover letter is useless if it fails to engage the reader or scares them off by its length. A good rule of thumb is to always be brief, succinct and eloquent.

Nicole Cavazos

Nicole Cavazos is a Los Angeles-based copywriter and blogger. As a former contributor to the ZipRecruiter blog, she covered the job market and wrote advice for job seekers.

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