I’ve known the mother sitting in front of me at this parent-teacher conference for years, and we have been through a lot together. I have taught three of her children, and I like to think we’ve even become friends during our time together. She’s a conscientious mother who obviously loves her children with all of her heart. I’ve always been honest with her about their strengths and weaknesses, and I think she trusts me to tell her the truth. But when she hits me with the concern that’s been bothering her for a while, all I can do is nod, and stall for time. “Marianna’s grades are fine; I’m not worried about that, but she just doesn’t seem to love learning anymore.”
When it comes to the topic of cover letters, today there's no such thing as conventional wisdom. A quick Internet search turns up many comments from job seekers who are glad to see it go and career experts who say, "Toss it." But some people still advise, "Better write a good one; they're important."
It’s the single biggest concern looming behind the success of your job search, the million-dollar question. “Why should I hire you?” lies behind every decision potential employers make, first about your CV and then about you as a person. But you’ll rarely hear it asked aloud. And, when I talk to applicants leaving academia and exploring their options in the outside world, I find it’s rarely on their minds—to their detriment.