Covering the cover letter: Understanding the importance of the cover letter in the application process
November 7, 2014 03:00 PM
By Becky Kelleman, Rutgers University
Two pages or two paragraphs? Chronological account or persuasive essay? No cover letter required, so should I submit one anyway? How important is a cover letter anyway? After attending the Professional Development Workshop prior to this year’s Fall Research Conference, I am not sure I could leave without full conviction of the importance of a cover letter. During the session Career Search: Behind the Scenes, all panel members repeatedly mentioned—nay rather, emphatically stressed—the utmost importance of the cover letter. So for those students interested in future employment, please take heed to the following words of wisdom.
Dr. Melissa Kovacs, Research Director at Maricopa County, shared you should always WRITE and SUBMIT a cover letter! If there is no room for a cover letter, add it to the last two pages of the resume. The content of the cover letter is your opportunity to showcase your personality; it’s here that you can show how your knowledge and skills tie into the job description. Kovacs explained that very few projects are done independently. Employers are looking to see how well you fit with their organizations and are interested in how you will perform with their teams. So make sure to submit a cover letter!
John Hutchins from MDRC explained the cover letter is where MDRC looks to gauge their interest in working at his organization. Also, make sure to do your homework on MDRC and demonstrate that in the cover letter; this makes future applicants more attractive. Actually, if you do not submit a cover letter with your application to MDRC, they just might not even consider the application.
David Schachnter, Assistant Dean at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, explained that the biggest challenge you will face is transitioning from academia to the non-academic world; the most important thing to remember is BE BRIEF! The cover letter is used to make sense of your resume, not to repeat it. Your cover letter is your personal narrative.
The last word on cover letters during the Professional Development Workshop came from Rebekah Selekman from Mathematica Policy Research later during the Non-Academic Career Path session. Selekman shared that Mathematica looks for a strong cover letter that not only highlights what you have done but your soft skills, as well. Being a good team player goes a long way in assessing fit at Mathematica.
So to answer the opening questions: length depends on how long your story is, persuasive essay would be better than a reiteration of your resume, ALWAYS submit a cover letter, and the cover letter is VERY IMPORTANT. On a final note to all students, if you were not able to make it to the Professional Development Workshop this year, make sure to add it to your calendar for next fall in Miami!