Not everyone finds that cover letters have value, but how do you know which folks care and which folks don’t? You don’t.
You need to have a cover letter whether the other person reads it or not. Make your cover letter brief and strategic, highlighting the two or three things you want the hiring manager to know.
If the reader cares, you win. If they don’t care, you don’t lose. Check out The Interview Doctor’s article, Cover Letter Magic, for more details on creating a great cover letter.
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, 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.
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: HR people are less likely to read cover letters. They have little time and get right to the resume. That was my experience. A cover letter represented one more piece of paper to file. But send one anyway.
Hiring managers in large companies: Hiring managers vary. In large companies with a lot of recruiting traffic, the cover letter might not get read either. But send one anyway.
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.
Although we no longer send resumes through the mail, cover letters can still serve a purpose. Update your job search methods to respond to hiring managers’ needs, time demands and preferences. You can’t lose and you might win!