Are Cover Letters Essential or Useless
I continue to be amazed by the number of job applicants who do not support their application with a cover letter. In my job descriptions, I specifically ask interested candidates to “include a cover letter detailing their specific interest in and qualifications for the opportunity, as they imagine it”. I’d say about one in five actually does that.
I understand that in many circles, cover letters are considered “old school” or unnecessary. Some believe resumes are in that same category of “old school”. LinkedIn encourages recruiters to accept applications with the Profile only. I understand how convenient that can be, especially for mobile users. I don’t think candidates understand the opportunity missed by not utilizing a cover letter (in tandem with a compelling resume!).
The cover letter is your opportunity to explain (perhaps most importantly) why you have interest in a particular employer and how you believe you can add value. This is a critical piece of information that can be powerful in making the employer understand that a candidate really would love to work for their company. Inversely, the lack of that statement makes that candidate “just another applicant”. Why not take advantage of that opportunity, especially if you really do want to work for that particular employer?
Those of us who read resumes for a living, tend to initially scan them to see if something (anything) grabs our attention . . . you’ve heard that viewers look over a resume for less than 30 seconds, prior to making a judgment. That’s true enough, sadly. It’s unlikely that the viewer will be able to understand how a candidate’s prior experience might relate to their particular opening, in 30 seconds or less. Smart candidates explain the how and why in their cover letters . . . This is not to say that you simply re-iterate what’s in your resume on your cover letter. Here are other articles I've written, "10 Reasons Why I Ignored Your Resume" or "Want to Apply For a Job? Introduce Yourself with Impact!"
The cover letter must be specifically targeted to one particular employer and opportunity. Sending the same “stock” or “standard” cover letter with every application is in some employer’s estimation, worse than no cover letter. A standard, “non-targeted” cover letter can brand you as “lazy” or you “don’t care enough to create a special cover letter”. Obviously, those are not traits sought after by employers!
As I was getting ready to hit “Post” for this article, I received an email from a friend that I think reinforces my point! “I finally was able to get the job posted and live after weeks of back and forth with the committee members, regarding qualifications and job duties. Wow, some people don’t have cover letters, some are half a sentence and barely intelligible. Likewise for resumes, I’m stunned with what I’ve seen when it comes to putting your best foot forward to a potential employer. One guy knows how to “access” the situation and another received a degree from Jefferson College, MI, he doesn’t even know his state’s abbreviation . . . !”