how to write a cover letterI’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 what insight are they gaining?

When you think about it, what is the purpose of a cover letter? Is it to summarize key points in the resume? Then why not include that summary of your value proposition in the resume, at the very top? Or should a cover letter provide additional information that’s not in the resume? If it’s important, doesn’t it belong in your resume?

But when you’re uploading your resume in response to a job posting, you’ll usually see the option to upload a cover letter as well. In this case, you do need to write a cover letter, but not for the reason you think. You need to write a cover letter to help your application rank higher in the ATS software, and that’s about the only function the cover letter serves.

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.

There’s one other instance where you need to know how to write a cover letter, and that’s when you are writing directly to a hiring manager or to a network contact, but this cover letter will be different from the kind you write when you’re uploading your resume online. But in both cases, you should never – and I repeat NEVER – pre-write it.

Here’s how to write a cover letter when you’re uploading your resume:

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

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. Briefly say that you handled them.

That’s it! Here you go:

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.


Jane Jones

Here’s how to write a cover letter when you’re emailing a hiring manager or network contact:

In this instance, it’s especially important not to use a pre-written letter. Everyone can tell it’s pre-written, and that’s a huge turn-off. In the subject line of your email, put the title of the job you’re applying for, OR, if you’re sending your resume to a network contact, write “connected through [mutual contact name]” in the subject line. Here’s an example:

Dear Hiring Manager:

I applied for the position of Global Account Manager at BCD Travel via your website, but am attaching my resume to this email as I am confident that I am a highly qualified candidate with excellent experience for this position. 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.

Now go into a little more detail about those accounts, but keep it short.

Sincerely, Jane Jones

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.

Need help with your resume? Click here to learn about my process and pricing.

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