That is the question that more candidates are asking today when they apply for jobs. The relevance of cover letters in today’s job market is a hot topic and from a recruiter’s perspective there is (and always will be) much debate around this question as every recruiter will have a different answer based on personal preference. Some recruiters expect a cover letter with every job application, while other recruiters don’t even bother reading them!
What side of the fence do I sit on? Here are my thoughts on this debate plus a few helpful tips to help make your job application stand out:
My Side: YES! Include a cover letter (with a big BUT)
*Caveat: that’s a ‘BUT’ with 1 ‘t’, not 2 – we don’t need a picture of your heiny!
Yes I read cover letters. For me, a well-written and customized cover letter can really add value to your application by making it stand out. BUT: a badly written and generic cover letter will quickly put your application in the ‘no’ pile! Therefore I’ve included some helpful tips to help your application get into my ‘yes’ pile:
Tip # 1 CUSTOMIZE, CUSTOMIZE, CUSTOMIZE
The most important tip! Sadly, I estimate that only 10% of cover letters that I read are customized. It is critical that you customize each and every cover letter to the ROLE, the INDUSTRY, and the COMPANY. Study the job posting to identify the key experience requirements of the role and research the company to gain insight into its culture. Use this information to highlight why you are a good match for the role, and why you are a great fit with the industry and company. This is also a great exercise to evaluate whether you really are a good fit, and will also form a platform of discussion points on which to base your upcoming interview conversations.
Tip # 2: Keep it concise and to the point
Make it easy for a recruiter to quickly agree that you are a good fit. By necessity we recruiters are notorious skim readers and the reality is that we don’t read every sentence you write. In my opinion, a cover letter should not be longer than 1 page (with lots of white space) and I’m a big fan of bullet points. Take 1 sentence to explain why you applied to the job, 2 sentences to explain why you are a good match with the company and industry, and 5 – 7 bullet points to detail why you are a good functional and technical fit for the role. End it with some professional pleasantries and you’re done!
Tip # 3: Start off with important information
For example, if you are immediately available, hold a valid visa/work permit, or are already planning to relocate to the location of the role, then include this information at the beginning of the letter (remembering to keep it concise). I also recommend including this at the top of your resume in case your cover letter is not read.
Tip # 4: Inject some personality
While remembering to keep Tip # 2 top of mind, don’t be afraid to show some personality and make your cover letter interesting! Recruiters want to learn about you as a whole person, not just how much of a functional and technical fit you are. If you come across as a fun and interesting person, then a recruiter is more likely to want to start a conversation with you.
Tip # 5: Assume it will be read
Don’t include a cover letter for the sake of it. If you’re going to write a cover letter and believe the quality doesn’t matter because no one reads them anymore, then think again! There have been many times that I’ve moved a candidate with a good resume from the ‘yes’ pile to the ‘no’ pile based solely on the quality of their cover letter.
Tip # 6: Proof read!
Simple spelling and grammar mistakes will quickly and easily ruin a cover letter ultimately putting your application in the ‘no’ pile. A quick way to proof read and catch any mistakes is to read it to yourself out loud, and then have a friend review it.
Cover letters can be a great way to make your application stand out, but only if they’re done right. If you are going to write a cover letter then make sure you follow my tips and, above all, don’t forget to CUSTOMIZE!