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Just how important are Cover Letters?

June 1, 2010

How do I stand out from the others?  I keep hearing that question, and it’s always an interesting discussion, so I thought I should share my thoughts.  HR professionals, and Job Seekers alike are very divided about how much attention they should “actually” give Resume Cover Letters.  But if it reaches the right hands, a well-crafted Cover Letter can win you the right candidate, or the right job.

Now back to our original topic, Do cover letters really matter?  Hmmm?  If you were that Recruiter / Hiring Manager, and had mere seconds to scan each, and every resume out of 100’s, how do you go about selecting the right candidate.  First off, you’ll probably be eliminating versus selecting wouldn’t you? 

Do Recruiters, and Hiring Managers even look at the correspondence that accompanies your resume, and job application?  The answers vary widely even among career experts, and HR pros, many of whom have strong opinions on the matter.

Some HR recruiters consider them a waste of time.  I’ve heard it said, that in their entire human-resources career of screening, interviewing, and hiring literally 1,000’s of individuals, they “may” have read a few dozen cover letters at most, most of which provided no value.  Most Recruiters and Hiring Managers immediately put the cover letter to the side, and jump into the resume itself.  Why?  Because, if they can’t get through the resume, the cover letter won’t tell them anything more than what they need to find on the resume.

On the other side:  Others says the cover letter is more important than the resume.  If the cover letter didn’t grab them, then they never got to the resume.  A cover letter needs to move your audience into action, such as inviting a candidate in for a job interview.

Since you don’t know what the Recruiter or Hiring Manager on the other side of the job application is like, you need to have a convincing cover letter which argues the case “Why should you be hired?”

To Whom It May Concern…

First of all, the cover letter must be addressed to a specific person, clearly indicate the job you are seeking, and focus on the specific needs of the position.

So you’re next question is probably, How do I determine the individual to whom I should send my cover letter to if the company doesn’t list the name of the Hiring Manager on the job posting?  Here’s some suggestions you could follow: 

  • Search LinkedIn to determine who might be responsible for hiring for this position.
  • Google the company’s name, the position title, and “jobs,” “employment,” “human resources,”  “careers, ” etc. to see if they have listed a hiring contact for this type of opening in the past.
  • Call the organization, and ask the receptionist.
  • Contact a current or former employee who can tell you the name of the individual in charge of hiring at your level.

Remember, It’s not about you…

Cover letters are only important to the extent that the candidate can make themselves interesting, or, better said, make themselves interesting to the application reviewer.

But it’s not all about you.  It’s about what you can do for the company, and why you would be a good fit.  Review the company’s Web site, and determine what skills, and experience make you valuable to that department.

Others have suggested that job seekers get right to the point, and use the cover letter to demonstrate their qualifications for every requirement of the position.  Use 2 columns: The first column, “Requirements,” lists each requirement set forth in the job posting.  The second column, “Qualifications,” details your qualifications for each requirement.  The two-column format works because: “1) You never know who is screening interviews, and you’ve done all their work for them, 2) If the company is scanning (and, they probably are), you’ve used all their key words, and 3) You have already started to prepare yourself for the interview by reviewing your background, and how it applies to the needs of that position.

I hope this discussion changes your mind on whether, or not to use a Cover Letter.  Yes, it takes more time, but it’s worth it!

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