Okay . . . I have an unpopular confession to make. I don’t read cover letters.
I’m not alone. Most of my peers and colleagues also completely ignore cover letters.
Why? Because they’re all the same, really. “I was intrigued by your job posting. I have 15 years of experience in XXX field, seeking an opportunity where I can grow within a fine organization such as yours! I excel at managing cross-functional teams, and I’m a very strategic team player. I look forward to setting a time to speak where we can further discuss my background and how I’m uniquely qualified to be a good fit for this position.”
If I had to spend 30% of my day reading these glorified form letters, I would hurl myself off of a bridge.
All snark aside, if you introduce yourself via email and ask me to “please see the attached resume and cover letter” I go straight to the resume, not only to avoid the torture of boring reading, but because that’s where I’m going to immediately find the answers to my questions about your experience and easily determine whether or not you’re a good fit for any of the roles that I’m recruiting.
Traditional cover letters were essential during the time when it was customary to physically print out a resume on bond paper and mail them to companies and recruiters. Personally, I haven’t been recruiting long enough to have ever received one of those relics. Technology has evolved, but for some reason the cover letter tradition has remained.
If a jobseeker has budgeted a certain number of hours per week to a job search, that valuable allotment of time shouldn’t be wasted on writing cover letters.
I have a friend who is in job-seeker beast mode, and insists on asking me about cover letters and probing me about what he should write. My first suggestion is to abandon the cover letter altogether, which is usually met with a blank stare. Inevitably he always chooses to proceed despite my professional opinion, so the next best suggestion is brevity, because his energy is better spent finding new job prospects than toiling over a cover letter that will remain unread.
I’m sure you’re thinking “I can’t possibly send my resume without an explanation.” You’re absolutely correct. What I do quickly read are the emails to which the resumes are attached.
The cover letter has evolved from being a separate formal document to being an introductory email. When writing an intro, there are a few guidelines to follow:
- If someone has referred you, it’s best to disclose that early in the email, if not in the subject line. Recruiters and internal hiring managers are more likely to pay attention to emails that come with the reference of a friend or trusted colleague.
- Provide a primer on your background, but keep it brief, i.e. “I’ve been a VP of Marketing with Company X for the last five years, and I’m seeking a senior-level Chicago-based role in the consumer products industry.” Highlight any major recent accomplishments.
- If you’re communicating with an internal hiring manager (rather than a recruiter), personalize the message to address the specific company.
- Infuse some personality . . . but not TOO much personality. The goal is to move away from robotic job-seeker lingo (as exhibited in the example above), however you also don’t want to become too casual and unprofessional.
- Anything more than two short paragraphs is too long. If I open a seven paragraph email from a candidate – especially one that I’ve never met – I’m immediately inclined to close that window and never return. Give recruiters enough information to make us want to know more and schedule time to speak with you.
- Make sure that your contact information is evident and accurate. Include your contact number and email on both the email introduction and resume. This sounds like common sense, but you’d be surprised. Also, don’t forget to provide the hyperlink to your LinkedIn profile. Avoid including personal social media profiles, such as Facebook or Twitter – unless your tweets are solely professional.
- Spend more time on your resume and prepping for your interview. If you still feel that there’s important outstanding information, include it directly in your resume in the career summary or objectives section.
Gina B. is an executive search consultant and President/Chief Alchemist of Naturals by Gina B. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.