During a talk with some industry peers last month, the topic of cover letters came up and it was a bit of a heated debate. A quick entry of “cover letter” into your favorite search engine will show that the subject of a cover letter is a widely disputed subject in the world of job searching. The majority of the articles and blogs that I read adamantly defended cover letters and implored the job seeker to make one. Some of the articles demanded that multiple cover letters be made. I found myself reflecting on the subject a lot lately, and realized that I have never had a clear cut stance on cover letters. I’ve never been for them or against them. I was cover letter neutral, and now I’m trying to pick a side.
I do see the value in cover letters. I believe that they allow you to express your interest in an industry, a company, and a specific job. They allow you to highlight your qualifications that make you a great fit for the job you’re interviewing for. Interviewing for a job is a competition, and during today’s job market it is an increasingly tough competition. Like any competition, you want to set yourself apart. You want to show that differentiator that makes you the clear choice over all of those other job seekers. You want to separate yourself from the pack and show your value. I believe a cover letter in theory does provide you with that opportunity. It allows you to concisely state why you are the winning candidate.
Cover letters can also have the opposite impact. If a cover letter is not formatted concisely, it can negatively impact your standings. If you blabber on about how great you are, or you make no real connection to the job, you just simply restate the information in your resume…then the cover letter adds no value. Grammar mistakes, arrogance, redundancy, and rambling facts can all sneak their way onto your cover letter. You might be a great match for the position, but the cover letter that promised to get you a seat at the interview table might actually be telling the hiring manager NOT to bring you in.
So I can see both sides of the argument. Both sides make sense to me; I can see how a cover letter can aid in your job search and I can see how a cover letter can be detrimental to your job search. So do I side with those who are Pro-Cover Letter or those who are Anti-Cover Letter?
To answer that question I had to think about my own personal experiences with cover letters. Since my first job at the age of 14 all the way to my current job, I’ve never used a cover letter. I’ve certainly applied the theories behind cover letters – I’ve tailored my resume to the job I wanted and I’ve always used an “objective” section that changes with each job submission I’ve sent…but I’ve never actually used a cover letter before. Just because I don’t personally use them doesn’t mean I’m necessarily against cover letters. I still didn’t have an answer to where I stood so I had to dig even deeper.
I started thinking about my experience as a recruiter and how I viewed cover letters professionally. The realization that I came to was similar to my personal experience. Professionally, I very rarely spend much time reading a cover letter. I almost always go right for the main course and dive into the resume looking at buzz words, job titles, and dates. Now, perhaps later on I’ll go back and read the cover letter out of curiosity…but that would be after I’ve already reviewed the resume and spoken to the job seeker. It doesn’t have any impact on whether or not I consider the job seeker for the job.
The fact is that you only have a 17% chance that your cover letter will be read, or in my case an 83% chance it won’t be read. In today’s world of job boards, online applications, and hundreds of applicants per job the average time spent looking at a resume is 5-7 seconds. Now, you may read that and say “well I had better make a great cover letter since they read that first” assuming that those 5-7 seconds will be used getting through the cover letter. However, I would subscribe to the theory that those 5-7 seconds are much better spent on your actual resume.
In conclusion I would surmise that if I were forced to pick a side, I would pick against cover letters. I simply don’t feel that they add any additional value to your application, but they can take value away. However that is my own personal and professional opinion. It would appear based on my previously mentioned internet searches of this topic that I may be out numbered. So please don’t let me sway you one way or the other – I simply wanted to finally pick a side. Feel free to send me your cover letter, I’m more than happy to toss it to the side while I read you resume.
Please send any questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to also follow me on Twitter @RecruiterMann23