The Importance of Cover Letters

The June issue of Inc. magazine contains a great article by Jason Fried, co-founder of 37 Signals and co-author of Rework.  Fried and the hiring managers at 37 Signals ignore resumes, maintaining that “Resumes reduce people to bullet points, and most people look pretty good as bullet points.”  I’d add that most bullet points look alike, since there’s a limited supply of action verbs that can be used on a resume, and only so many relevant things in a job or a company that you could have done by yourself. You’d be surprised at how obsolete those things look after a few short years, too.

But, says Fried, “Cover letters say it all.  They immediately tell you if someone wants this job or just any job.” Yes, I say, yes!   And therein lies the magic of career planning.  It helps you identify and intelligently and confidently communicate what you want, why you want it, and what you offer in return for the opportunity you seek.

If you don’t know anything about a company, you can’t write a cohesive letter explaining why you want to join it.  And as for the sadly shallow advice to parrot the bullet points in a job posting with your own bullet-pointed section illustrating you’ve “been there, done that,” how many of those letters do you think might be sitting in that file?

A career planner doesn’t wait for the posting. If you know what you want, why wait passively for some sort of perverse permission to ask for it?  If you don’t know what you want, how can you make a good case for yourself as the best candidate for anything?

Fried doesn’t hire people when 37 Signals doesn’t have a need to fill, and 37 Signals doesn’t go looking for new needs in order to justify a hire.  But clearly when it’s time to hire, they think through the offering that shows who has been readying himself or herself for such a career opportunity.

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