write cover lettersLet’s discuss why job candidates write cover letters, which is oddly enough, a hotly contested issue within the hiring process, although for the life of me, I don’t see why.

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, as I’ve mentioned many times, when my inbox contained 50 – 100 applicants, I couldn’t find time to open two documents per candidate, preferring to focus instead on reading the resume.

But lack of time isn’t the most compelling reason for not reading cover letters. No, the reasons most HR professionals have shared for not reading them is 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 the 25% of recruiters who read cover letters mention that they offer insight into the candidate’s ability to write – well, c’mon. Most job seekers either download a 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 clients ask me to write cover letters for them, my first question is this: “what is the purpose of a cover letter?” which 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.

Which brings me to the legitimate reason to write cover letters – to help your application rank higher in the ATS software when you click to upload your resume in response to a job posting, which is a necessary protocol but shouldn’t be the one and only step in the job search process. (read this post on how to get a job through your LinkedIn network).

To enable your application to rank higher in the ATS, NEVER write cover letters in advance of applying. And don’t trust anyone who is willing to take your money to do so. Every time you write cover letters, you must specifically address the particulars 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

Pick two of the requirements listed above, and BRIEFLY mention that you did them.

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.

Sincerely,

Simply write a few lines in which you mention the company name and the exact title in the job opening, and reference a few of the most important requirements in the job postings. That’s it! Even if you work with a professional resume writer, this step is completely DIY.

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