Love Letter to the Cover Letter
Rumors of the death of the cover letter have been greatly exaggerated.
HR and job seekers have been split on the subject for some time. Some claim that in an age of electronic applications and automated recruiting, the cover letter is a waste of time because no one will see it. Others suggest that the abundance of internet templates has resulted in a wave of awful stock letters that provide no value to the application materials. Yet some hold outs insist the cover letter is your golden ticket to your first interview, and I agree.
I’m not alone. In a Twitter poll I ran this week geared toward HR professionals and hiring managers, 57% of respondents said they “absolutely” read cover letters. Another 29% said they do “depending on position.” Only 14% said they don’t bother. The cover letter is still relevant, and not spending time to craft a good one is a missed opportunity.
Your cover letter is your personal sales pitch, and it’s vital to your application’s success. Hiring managers do read them, and the ones that stand out belong to the candidates who get interviewed (and in my experience, the candidates with good cover letters are often the ones to be hired).
A strong cover letter doesn’t just tell recruiters about your experience and accomplishments, it also tells them:
1. You want the job. Your cover letter is your chance to show that you really want this position and are excited about this organization. Since so many applicants neglect to include a cover letter, you will have a leg up on them as hiring mangers review your letter and get a sense of your enthusiasm. A cover letter is often not required in application processes now, so choosing to include one shows that you’re willing to put in extra effort for things that are important to you. It just looks good.
2. You’ve accomplished things. Save your software skills and daily tasks for your resume, and leverage your cover letter to talk about your successes. Use your cover letter to explain how you used software to achieve measurable outcomes, or share a few initiatives you developed and implemented. Show the hiring manager what you’ve done for other companies to help them understand what you could do for their organization.
3. You can write. It should go without saying that if you’re applying for a position in marketing, communications, and certain other fields that writing is an expected skill. It’s also a skill few people have. A well written, spell-checked, grammatically correct cover letter will put you light years ahead of other candidates in these fields. As online applications limit information to short fields and facts, your cover letter is your first writing sample. Conversely, a letter with grammatical errors and misspellings can hurt you: hiring managers will dismiss such candidates if the recruitment is for a position that requires extensive writing prowess. Make sure to dot your "i"s and cross your "t"s and you’ll stand out from the crowd.
4. You’re a potential culture fit. Companies are hiring for culture fit over skill set more and more. An electronic application with fill-in-the-blank fields only gives a sense of your skills, and doesn’t help hiring managers assess your potential cultural fit. Your cover letter should talk about how your professional approach aligns with the company’s mission and values, and in this way you can bypass the candidates who neglect to include a cover letter and miss the chance to promote how well they would integrate into and support the company’s culture.
Your cover letter is the professional way of saying to hiring managers, “Hey! Pick me!” as they wade through their pool of applicants. Use it wisely to attract their attention and you’ll be rewarded with an interview.