1. A cover letter is your only opportunity to make the match between the job description and your resume.
The employer is very familiar with the job requirements. The hiring manager doesn’t know you at all. Simply reading your resume may give him or her an idea of what you can do that is relevant to their open position. A cover letter that actually lays it out for them makes it simple and easy for them to imagine you doing the job.
Example: I see in the job description that you want someone with financial and reporting management experience, as well as management experience in operationally demanding and challenging environments. These are areas of great strength for me. Throughout my career, and now at FHI 360, I have successfully transformed dysfunctional situations into high-performing, effective operations that deliver excellent results for internal and external customers. I’m very familiar with USAID and major international funders including the Gates Foundation and other private foundations. My business acumen is a major asset in working with funding sources, who are looking for an accountable partner to help them achieve their ambitious goals.
2. You can show a little bit of what you’d be like at work.
You can show that you researched the company, thought carefully about how well you fit the requirements, and built a case for yourself. You go that extra step by creating a road map of sorts, directing the reader to the essential parts of your experience. You demonstrate your ability to be clear. You can put in some personality by saying why you want to work for the company – as long as your reasons start with the company and only then mention your needs and wants.
Example: I want to work for Macys.com because you are in the vanguard of the on-line retail revolution. To be part of growing your platform, and using my skills to further advance the Macys.com brand and impact is definitely something I would enjoy.
Be aware that if you have any typos or weird grammatical constructions, the hiring manager will assume that is how you will approach the job – or even more sloppily. If you can’t take the time to perfect a letter that could help you land a job – a huge piece of your future – then why would I assume you’d take seriously the work you have to do day in and day out?
3. It’s a writing sample.
Writing a coherent, well-constructed cover letter is evidence that you can communicate. Good sentence structure, short paragraphs, getting to the point, building a case for yourself — all these elements add up to your being a good writer and by extension, a good thinker.