About that cover letter…

It used to be that job search was all about a good resume and cover letter.

When it came to evaluating applicants, the resume was the meat and potatoes. The main course, if you will. And the cover letter, well, that was more like the fancy appetizer. That special little something that not only looked impressive, but whet the hiring manger’s appetite and made them hungry for more.

Job seekers spent hours crafting their resume and cover letter templates, understanding how both pieces worked together to give potential employers the full meal deal.

But today’s recruiters aren’t as interested in cover letters. Forget the puff pastry bites! They’re going straight for the meatloaf.

Has the cover letter become irrelevant?

Today’s talent search begins online. Candidates are asked to fill out forms and applications and submit information electronically, and cover letters are often optional. Resumes are put through applicant tracking systems (ATS), scanned for key words and skills, then sorted by relevance.

After all that, the average resume only gets about 6 seconds of eyeball time before being tossed into one pile or another other. If recruiters are barely glancing at resumes, why on earth would they take the time to read a cover letter?

Good question

Many of them won’t. According to one study, the vast majority of recruiters don’t think cover letters matter much. And yet 26% of recruiters said they considered them to be an important factor in their hiring decisions.

So while the importance of cover letters is dwindling, they haven’t completely disappeared.  Are they a prerequisite? Not usually. Can they still be helpful in some circumstances? Most definitely.

If you use them correctly.

Fair warning

Your cover letter isn’t simply a recap of your resume. If this is what you’ve created, you might as well toss it aside because it won’t add any value to the process.

A well designed cover letter should provide something new. Something extra. More personal than a resume, it should be a summary of why you’re a good fit for the position and how you plan to bring value to the organization.

There’s a fine line here, and you need to be careful not to cross it.

Cover letters aren’t about why you want the job or what you want out of it. They’re about what you have to offer the organization, and why you’re the best fit for their needs. 

An employer doesn’t need to know how they can help you. They need to know what you can do for them. And this is where a great cover letter can make that extra bit of difference.

Dos and Don’ts

Even though the majority of recruiters readily admit they don’t read cover letters, there are times when it is appropriate to provide one.

When to include it:

  • The job listing rob requires or requests it
  • If someone has referred you for the company/position
  • You have additional information about why you’re a good fit

When to leave it out:

  • If job posting forbids (or politely requests) no cover letters
  • If your cover letter is generic, poorly written, or redundant

Tips for job seekers:

When cover letters are optional, many applicants will breathe a sigh of relief and happily skip it. In fact, 47% of job seekers did not submit a cover letter with their most recent job application. Including a well written cover letter with your resume can help you stand out in these situations.

That said, a bad cover letter can also make you stand out. But not in a good way.

A poorly written cover letter can actually be worse than no cover letter. If you’re going to write one, make sure it sends the right message— how you can help the business achieve its goals.

Tips for employers:

Forbidding cover letters may seem like a recruiting time saver, but it can also prevent you from having an additional way to differentiate between candidates, with little to no effort on your end.

You’re not required to read every cover letter, but if you’re down to the wire on a few candidates, cover letters can be a helpful decision making tool.

Take it or leave it

You may think cover letters have gone the way of VCRsroller disco, and Pepsi Light. And you may be right. But sometimes a little nostalgia hits the spot.

Should you or shouldn’t you incorporate cover letters in your job or talent search process? There’s really no wrong answer here.

Use your judgement based on the position, the candidate pool, the hiring manager, the job listing, and any other relevant factors. Then make the decision that seems best for you.


Photo Credit  stokkete