The Almighty Letter
How People Process Information
Psychologists have separated humans into "right-brain" and "left-brain" types.
Right-brain folks process information emotionally and irrationally. Their left-brain counterparts, on the other hand, are rational and analytical.
Obviously, when writing a stranger you cannot know whether your mailing will arrive on the desk of a person who is right-brained or left-brained, or which of the two elements will be read first.
A left-brain person—with a rational and analytical mind—will reach for the résumé first. The emotional, irrational right-brain recipient will want to make a connection with the sender and will read the letter first.
The Tone and Style of the Letter vs. the Résumé
One of my early mentors in copywriting was the former circulation director of Reader's Digest, a hard-drinking, hard charging former naval officer and political fundraising pioneer named Walter Weintz.
"There are two kinds of copy," Weintz once told me. "There's 'you-me' copy and 'it' copy."
The "you-me" copy is what goes in a letter—a personal me-to-you message that is read in the quiet of an office or living room. A letter is the most intimate of written communication and is what makes direct mail different from any other advertising form.
The "it" copy shows and describes "it"—the product or service that the mailing is trying to sell. In response to a job listing, the "it" copy is the résumé that describes, in a clinical and unemotional way, the features of the candidate's life in terms of experience, dates and places.
The point of the cover letter is to take those features and turn them into benefits—in other words, "what these features will do for you, Mr. or Ms. Future Employer."
Simply repeating or highlighting features from the résumé in the letter won't do. It turns the letter into more "it" copy and wastes the one opportunity to connect personally with benefit-oriented "you-me" copy.