The Importance of Quality Cover Letters

Keith Lawrence Miller '14TC
November 20, 2019

The most important function of a cover letter is to sell the resume. Resumes are viewed 40 percent more when accompanied by a letter. This is your initial chance to make an everlasting and impactful impression so you need to make it count.

Should a cover letter be short and sweet or comprehensive? The answer always seems to depend on the person answering the question. Therefore, there is a lot of ambiguity. Let’s use common sense to decode fact from fiction, and develop a proper strategy to cultivate a deliverable that will win interviews.

Quality and Depth Are Key

While some might recommend a shorter letter because it is less work, and recruiters might prefer this since they have to review many applications, this isn't beneficial to the applicant. The message needs to be communicated fully, eloquently, and professionally. Plus, if a hiring manager or recruiter cannot spend 3-5 minutes to read one page of information, this may be a potential red flag for poor client services and a future toxic work environment with sub-par hiring practices. 

To superimpose a similar process: The most compelling movies watched by the largest and most diverse audiences are normally two hours+ in length, followed by sequels or trilogies. Many people watch these movies multiple times over a period of many years, and the movies become part of culture and history. On the other side of the spectrum, TV shows or movies spanning 30 minutes to an hour often fail to captivate audiences. If length was a deterrent, these blockbuster movies would never become popular and the common collective human behavior would not exist. How do these ‘content-rich’ movies break the tipping point and become legendary? The simple answer is in the delivery quality and the story structure, which is also the difference between a poorly written cover letter and a quality cover letter that wins interviews. 

Think Like the Recruiter

Self-interest is a human tendency and the world of most individuals normally revolves around ‘what is in it for them.’ When reading your cover letter, a hiring manager is wondering how you can fulfill their needs. Your responsibility is to understand their requirements, marry your professional experience and future potential with their specific expectations, and create intrigue and a sense of self in the reader. Great movies and actors capture the imagination of viewers and there is a subconscious relationship formed with the actors and situation which promotes emotions such as sadness, excitement, concern, hope, fear, and achievement. 

Tell a Clear Story

Subsequently, the storytelling aspect of the deliverable is paramount so the reader understands the situation (your professional background and transferable skills), your current experience along with contributions and achievements, a few past achievements to show consistency and predictability in performance, a pre-closing statement about transferable skills in relation to the next steps in your career, and a closing statement requesting an interview to further discuss the mutually beneficial partnership. Most importantly, the communications have to be written flawlessly in proper English so that the reader fully understands the message without being confused by missing information or by underwhelming skills in communicating important points of view. Using impactful multi-syllabic words with significant meaning to convey a point is optimal rather than a rambling of simple words used in regular speech. Ultimately, you need to wow your audience with professional deliverables that outperform the competition to achieve your job application objectives. 

Keith Lawrence Miller '14TC is a Board-Certified Coach (BCC), ICF Credentialed Certified Career Coach (PCC), and Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) with subject matter expertise in executive career coaching, business and leadership coaching, and resume and LinkedIn optimization. He holds a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Organizational Psychology and an Advanced Certificate in Collective Intelligences from Teachers College. He served as a Columbia University Senator (2011-2013). Connect with Miller and other members of the Columbia Career Coaches Network.