To be perfectly honest, I would rather have a complete, compelling resume than a mediocre resume and a “nice” cover letter. In other words, if you have to include a cover letter to convince me to give you a critical look, you are in trouble.
If you are determined to include a cover letter it should, in a clear, dynamic and irresistible way, emphasize your unique value. Anything less is not going to help and it may hurt. The researcher/recruiter assigned to the search engagement may read the cover letter, but I will not.
If you are in the job market, or preparing to update your resume, do not yield to the temptation to think of this document only as a necessary document in the recruitment process. Nothing could be further from the truth. The resume is your first interview. If you cannot tell a compelling story — that your credentials, experience and accomplishments match with the employer’s preferences — then take the time to look at some of the web-based resources to help you prepare a winning resume. Be wary of the so-called resume doctors. I have seen some terrible resumes that were produced by resume factories for a princely fee. The true test of whether your resume is effective is the number of callbacks and telephone interviews you obtain.
If you are looking to distinguish yourself from competing candidates, a follow up thank you note will buy you more attention. But your writing must be legible and the quality of your stationary must state, “I am a quality leader.” Cheap or tacky note cards, or poor handwriting, will offset any benefit of being thoughtful. It is a competitive market. Why would you use cheap off-the-shelf cards? In a job search, being penny-wise, pound-foolish is a sure way to prolong the process.
© 2012 John Gregory Self