“Stop Writing Cover Letters! Nobody reads them, and writing one can only hurt you. You’re wasting your time.” This headline, on a recent Facebook post, certainly caught my attention. Coming from the legacy world of resumes being sent via the postal service, even updating that to a resume being sent via e-mail, I was immediately wondering how HR or a hiring manager would act to an envelope just containing a resume or e-mail with no message and just a resume attached. I am not buying this advice.
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Moreover, I do not understand how the article arrives at this conclusion either. Less than 100 words into the article, a study is quoted that says “only 18% of managers think cover letters are important.” So it is advisable to eliminate almost 20% of your potential employers without even trying? Plus, while “only” 18% think they are important, there’s no report that only 18% read them. I never put much stock into cover letters, primarily because many of them are poorly written, but I do scan them quickly, and quite regularly I see something valuable.
Moreover, there are other supposed reasons for not writing a cover letter. “…a cover letter can only hurt you. Of the hiring managers surveyed, 55% said typos were the biggest turnoff. Why risk a typo when a cover letter is unlikely to help you get the gig?” That logic would also apply to resumes and LinkedIn profiles where typos are equally possible.
The final arguments are that interviews are more important than cover letters. That’s a shocker! Wait a minute! I think we already knew that. Resumes are also more important than cover letters. And companies are using other tools including Skype interviews and requests to submit video interviews. All true and rapidly changing the world of hiring. Attempting to identify the single most important element of your career search makes little sense. With organizations of different sizes, different industries, and millions of individual managers’ hiring processes, a job seeker needs to be prepared for multiple strategies. There are even cases where a candidate is not even allowed to submit a cover letter. Online applications processes may allow or require an attached resume but not a cover letter.
I believe there are at least four sound arguments for continuing to use a cover letter as part of your career search.
1. Writing your cover letter is the easiest part of your career search.
It is likely going to take you less than 5-10% of the time you need to spend creating your resume and your LinkedIn profile, and an almost minuscule percentage of the time you’ll spend developing a personal website if you follow the growing popularity of that advice. There are very simple templates, readily available, for drafting a short, effective cover letter. Yes, there are alternatives to traditional cover letters, marketing letters, for example, that are designed to be more like a resume than a cover letter. These options will take more time but they are intended to be similar to, and in some cases a substitute for, your resume.
2. This one’s easy to state – and not that hard to implement. Don’t make spelling and grammatical errors.
If you are likely to make a spelling or grammatical error in your cover letter, it is even more likely you’ll make one (or more) in your resume or LinkedIn profile. Skipping the cover letter, for this reason, doesn’t make much sense – especially when there’s a much better alternative. First, carefully proofread your cover letter. Second, ask a trusted friend or colleague to proofread it with you. Third, use your computer’s spell check carefully and consider stepping up to something more sophisticated like Grammarly.
3. Your resume, if written effectively, is focused on your accomplishments, not just your experiences and skills.
It is customized so that a “summary statement,” if you have one, plus your accomplishments for each job, are tied to the job you are applying for. However, your resume is still “too much information” for that initial “6-second scan” and the HR recruiter or hiring manager might overlook the key point you especially want them to see. The cover letter lets you add that special detail – that personal insight into your passion – that might be harder to include in your resume. Perhaps there’s something that’s not from your current position that really fits this potential job so it is not at the top of your resume.
4. A-B-C, Always be closing.
That is the classic sales advice, and you might hope that your resume has some powerful “closing” points about your accomplishments. However, your resume does not offer you the chance to close directly – your cover letter does. Almost all advice on cover letters suggests a short and simple formula, one that always ends with asking for the next steps: an interview, a phone conversation, or the job itself.
In the dynamic of the more automated, more networking world of hiring today, the traditional cover letter may have lost some significance. However, so have other elements, including the resume which has lost importance due to the continued growth of online processes including LinkedIn. However, there are still organizations and millions of small businesses and job opportunities, where a strong cover letter can make a difference.
About the author
Jim Schreier is a management consultant with a focus on management, leadership, including performance-based hiring and interviewing skills. Visit his website at www.farcliffs.com.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a CAREEREALISM-approved expert. You can learn more about expert posts here.
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