For the majority of the population, being asked to write something, ANYTHING, oftentimes prompts an automatic “Do I have to?” In a society where time is money and money is time, we don’t want to waste one precious second of our day writing something we believe will end up in the bottom of some hiring manager’s wastebasket amongst some granola bar wrappers and a plastic Starbucks cup. For this reason, several people have abandoned the once “staple” component of the application package—the cover letter. Another prime culprit behind this shameless breakup with the cover letter is the abundance of online applications. Since there is rarely a clear spot for you to attach a cover letter while submitting your resume online, many people abandon this step all together.
But is this seemingly insignificant skipped step actually harming your chances at securing your dream job? We believe so. Many employers believe that cover letters are very necessary, and they distinguish your communication skills and your personality in ways a resume simply cannot. And for those employers that don’t really look at cover letters, well then they may have a little extra cushion in their waste basket that day, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Below is a great Careerbuilder article written by Anthony Balderrama that outlines several good reasons why you should call back up your cover letter and reconcile your differences.
How a cover letter helps you
When you submit an application or résumé to an employer, you probably haven’t spoken at length with the hiring manager. Therefore your papers are one needle in a huge haystack of applicants. Your goal is to set yourself apart as quickly as possible and not to give the hiring manager any reason to dismiss you from consideration; a cover letter can help you achieve that goal.
“Employers need to know you know how to communicate in writing,” says Sue Thompson, a personal coach and corporate trainer. “Your résumé may have been done professionally or using a template, and you may have done a good job of proofreading. But a cover letter shows you have the ability to put sentences together and sound like a halfway intelligent person. It will reveal whether your education has any merit: Are words spelled properly? Is the grammar correct? Is the punctuation appropriate?”
You can look at the cover letter as a way to persuade the hiring manager to consider you for the job. Or, if fear is a better motivator, think about the lack of a cover letter, or one written poorly, as a strike against you.
Connect the dots
Job coach and former recruiter Judi Perkins wants job seekers to understand the role of a well-written cover letter. “When they’re written correctly, they’re extremely effective, because they’re a sales tool.” And the secret to this sales tool is taking a two-pronged approach to the cover letter.
“The first part: The key is that [cover letters] need to be focused on what the buyer — the hiring company — wants,” Perkins says. This means you need to look at the ad and see what it’s asking for because that’s what the employer is looking for, too. “The ad tells you, explicitly, what that company wants.
“But here’s the second part — the kicker — that no one else even teaches (and even professional sales people don’t do): bridge the benefit back to the company; spell out the benefit of hiring you.”
Simply put, you know what the company wants and you know what you can offer — your résumé is a list of your accomplishments, after all. So Perkins suggests you just connect the dots for your readers.
The new cover letter
Job hunting has changed quite a bit since the advent of the Internet, as many of today’s job seekers have probably never applied for a job via the mail. This means that the practice of placing a cover letter and résumé in an envelope and mailing it is antiquated for many companies. But does that mean you have to write an e-mail to the employer and attach both the cover letter and résumé, or do you skip the cover letter when applying online?
“The growing prevalence of applying via e-mail or through an organization’s Web site is making cover letters obsolete in most industries,” according to Wes Henricksen, president of Seize the A, an academic consulting organization. “That does not mean that the ability to write a cover letter has become obsolete. Instead, it means the rules have changed. The new ‘cover letter’ is often a shorter two-paragraph message in the body of an e-mail. Although this new ‘cover e-mail’ is shorter and less formal, its content is no less important than that of a traditional cover letter. Style, spelling, grammar and professionalism are all still vitally important.”
What employers think
You know how a good cover letter can work to your advantage, but what if you don’t submit one? Are you doomed? For some employers, such as Angela Ruggiero, yes. She’s an adviser for Stanton Communications’ internship program. As a new graduate, she didn’t bother with a cover letter, and now she realizes her mistake.
“I see red flags when there is no cover letter along with a résumé,” Ruggiero says. “The absence of cover letters translates to me that the candidate is lazy and is sending résumés in masses, rather than customizing or personalizing to each individual company of interest.”