Is It Time to Bury the Cover Letter?
Posted December 15, 2014 & filed under Resume
For a long time, cover letters were considered indispensable. A resume was the brief SparkNotes overview of your career and a cover letter was the catchy synopsis of key chapters. To quote Forrest Gump, the two were like “peas and carrots.”
But these days, there are plenty of opinions to the contrary. So what’s the truth? Can a cover letter be useful or should we just jettison it in our wake?
The Case against Cover Letters
For many hiring managers, the cover letter has minimal payoff.
“Hiring managers just want to get to the details,” says Teresa Olsen, Manager of National Development for General Employment Enterprises. “Most of what they want is in the resume. Occasionally, they’ll glance at a cover letter, but it has to really grab them.”
Think about it. Many of us receive hundreds of emails, both relevant and spam, over the course of a business day. Without the time and energy to meticulously review everything in our inboxes, we skim for what stands out. And plenty of cover letters just don’t say anything memorable.
Jeff Gullet, Assistant Branch Manager of our Ashley Ellis Naperville office, feels that the problem arises because too many cover letters have the same flavor as the resume. He says, a good cover letter is “a little appetizer but it should never feel like half the main course.”
Instead, most are just a lump of paragraphs that appear a bit redundant when placed next to a detailed resume. At that point, it might be better just to save yourself the effort and omit it.
The Case for Cover Letters
Is there any value in cover letters? Yes, if you use it right.
Resumes are best suited for your technical skills, but a job description typically asks for more than just that. All throughout the advertisement, there are little dotted lines linking back to the company culture. Communication skills, a team spirit, analytic mind, or any other interpersonal traits are explicitly asked for in writing.
Sure, you can hint at those traits in your resume, but you’re doing so in a matchbox sized space. A cover letter is less confined. If you narrow your focus to two central personality traits, you can even provide a good number of examples that might otherwise be left on the cutting room floor.
Before writing your cover letter, always identify which personality traits are the most important to the company. Then, craft your response with those in mind.
It’s also important that employers see you aren’t mailing cloned job applications everywhere. A good cover letter proves you’ve visited the website and comprehend what makes the company unique.
One big way to do that is by referring to the company vision. In a resume, you only indirectly affirm that your skills will complement its advance. In a cover letter, you don’t have to beat around the bush. You can directly state how you’ll make a company’s visions a reality. And you can provide statistics and strategies to prove it.
Are Cover Letters Good or Bad?
In the end, the value of a cover letter depends on you. Anything that doesn’t differentiate itself from the resume isn’t worth it. A good cover letter needs to be short, fill in the gaps, show your personality, and prove you’re already right for the company. If it fails to do that, it’s better to send the resume on a solo mission.
by James Walsh