Heard on the street: “Should I include a cover letter with my online application?” “Will you read my cover letter to be sure it is right?” “Is my cover letter holding me back?”
I get these questions a lot. The answer is… it depends. It is hard to give a straight answer because different people value different things. In a job search you will encounter people who like to be communicated with in different ways. Provide each audience with information in the way they prefer or you risk being ignored.
First I want to say if you are a job seeker at a professional level, why are you spending so much time submitting applications to posted jobs? The odds are against you. The chances are better that no one is reading your resume or cover letter when you respond to an ad so why are you wasting your time?
Ok, I got that out of my system. Now let’s look at how different constituents use resumes and whether or not a cover letter has value.
Executive Recruiters: According to Ambra Benjamin an engineering recruiter at Facebook who wrote on this topic in Quora.com recently, don’t bother with a cover letter to executive recruiters. She said, “Not only do we not usually read them, most of the time we don’t even open that attachment or give cover letters a cursory glance. It’s such a waste of time.” Blunt but to the point.
Reach out by phone or email and attach your resume as a document to the email. If the recruiter is going to open anything it will be the resume.
Skip the application and go direct: By the way, Ambra Benjamin advises candidates to skip the online application and send your resume directly to a recruiter or hiring manager. Huh, I wonder where I’ve heard that before.
HR People and probably hiring managers in large companies: HR people are less likely to read cover letters. They have little time and get right to the resume. Hiring managers vary. In large companies with a lot of recruiting traffic, the cover letter might not get read either.
Attach your resume to an email and include a few lines in the email. As Ambra says, “Short and to the point. Like seriously, five sentences is all that’s necessary.” Any more than that and you risk being set aside. No long paragraphs. Keep it brief or no one will read it.
Make those five sentences really work for you by sharing some of your personality. Don’t make your cover letter (or email transmittal) sound just like everyone else. What are the very few things you want the hiring manager to know? Not paragraphs but a few sentences or bullets.
Hiring Managers in smaller companies are not hiring as much, probably don’t have sophisticated applicant tracking systems and are more likely to read cover letters. But again, be brief and make every word count. Be strategic. What are the very few things you want the hiring manager to know? Use the cover letter to draw the hiring manager’s attention to how your background matches the company’s unique needs. Do it with some flair and personality to make them want to read more.
Cover letters are something of a throwback to previous years before the electronic age when resumes sent in the mail needed a cover letter as a transmittal.