I’ve never understood why job candidates need to write a cover letter, and I don’t understand why it’s a hotly contested issue within the hiring process. Here’s the fact: the vast majority of people in recruiting don’t read cover letters. I periodically survey recruiters and HR professionals in my network to get their feedback, and every time I’ve asked about cover letters, 75% of those who respond say that they never read them. Here’s what Kristina Finseth, an IT recruiter, wrote about why she believes that cover letters are dead. And a former recruiter at Apple agrees. As a human resources executive myself, I never read them; when my inbox contained 50 – 100 applications, I had no time to open two documents per candidate, so I read only the resume.
But lack of time isn’t the only reason for not reading cover letters. Most HR professionals have told me that cover letters don’t add anything to their decision as to whether or not to invite the candidate in for an interview. And while small minority of recruiters who do read cover letters feel that they offer insight into the candidate’s ability to write – well, c’mon. Most job seekers either download a cover letter template or if they’re using a resume writer, ask that person to do it for them, so how much insight are they gaining?
When you think about it, there’s really no need to write a cover letter. Some clients ask me if cover letters are included in my fee, which leads me to ask them: “what is the purpose of a cover letter?” This is followed by an initial silence, and then their answer is always one of these 3:
- to summarize what’s in the resume
- to provide additional information that’s not in the resume
- I don’t know! – the job posting says to upload my resume and cover letter
Here’s my response to each:
- why not include that summary of your value proposition in the resume, at the very top?
- If it’s important enough to tell an employer, doesn’t it belong in your resume? And if this nugget of additional information is important to only a handful of employers, can’t it go in your resume, anyway?
- that’s a good point, so understand the reason that this requirement still exists. It’s there for the ATS only, to help its algorithm rank the resume for its perceived merits.
You actually need to write a cover letter to help your application rank higher in the ATS software when when you upload your resume online. But merely clicking and uploading shouldn’t be your one and only strategy in your job search. Networking your second degree connections on LinkedIn is much more important. Read this post about getting a job through your LinkedIn network.
To enable your application to rank higher in the ATS, never pre-write your cover letter. And don’t trust anyone who is willing to take your money to do so because it means they don’t understand the recruitment process.
You need to write cover letters that specifically address the requirements of the job you’re applying for, so there’s no way you can pre-write them.
Here’s how to write cover letters yourself in a few easy steps:
Look at the job posting to see what types of experience or background the employer is looking for. This example is for a Global Account Director at BCD Travel:
- Meetings & Events operations & account management responsibility for assigned client(s)Manages the global relationship, responsible for targeting client-specific global growth opportunities, positioning, contracting and implementation
- Manages dedicated staff in two or more regions (NA, LATAM, EMEA or APAC)
- Global portion of assigned client must exceed 50% of account base or, if newly implemented, is expected to exceed 50% of total responsibility
- Manages one, or more, accounts with global volume in excess of $15 million
Simply write a few lines in which you mention the company name and the exact title in the job opening, and pick two of the most important requirements listed above, and briefly say that you handled them.
That’s it! Even if you work with a professional resume writer, this step is completely DIY. Here’s what this person should write in her cover letter:
Dear Hiring Manager:
I am applying for the position of Global Account Manager at BCD Travel.
My resume details my experience managing several global accounts that ranged from $7 – $25 million in regions throughout EMEA and North America, with approximately 50% – 60% located outside the U.S.
I look forward to discussing my candidacy with you in greater detail.
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