Let’s put one thing out there to start, I love hiring people. And like every other Human Resources Manager, I seen almost every resume format and trick there is to make a candidate marketable. I have seen resumes bulleted, italicized, bolded, indented, and even hyperlinked; but not the same things from person to person, revealing to the recruiter a wealth of inferable information. When a recruiter reads a resume, please know they are reading the candidate. There has been a lot of talk about the resume in this new economy but no one is talking about the resume’s trusted sidekick: the cover letter.
I want to know, where did the cover letter go? The cover letter is the narrative expression that helps add to a candidate’s whole entire picture. Maybe the fault is mine; and this may be a personal professional flaw I shouldn’t be admitting to in a professional capacity; but, I read the cover letter. I want to know why there is a two-year gap in an employment history, or how did the person jump from a religion degree to human resources? Your cover letter isn’t just a filler for employment gaps it serves a few other purposes.
First, we should probably take a look at why a cover letter is so important.
It’s your writing sample! Yes, really! The cover tells potential employers what skill level to expect your written communications. Whoever it may be that is in charge of the hiring process will know that you can effectively communicate yourself in emails and formal letters – or not. A well-written cover enhances your resume and candidate profile.
It’s your “experience translator.” Your cover letter helps translate how your skills match the desired skills on the advertisement. In this day of job postings that look more like tweets than actual postings, I understand that it can become discouraging to provide a well-thought out, original cover letter. But there is an advantage to doing so. The recruiter needs more than a stylized listing of your job experiences and titles going back ten or fifteen years in order to accurately evaluate your skills and trust me, every bit of effort on your part helps. This is especially important when you may have worked for smaller companies or startups where the titles become blurred. We, the hiring community, need to know what it is that you did, how you did it, and the skills you have picked up and mastered along the way.
It sets the tone for your level of professionalism. A classy cover letter separates the resume polluters from the true job seekers. Resume pollution is a term I have given to people that see job and apply, not caring if their resume gets lost in an electronic black hole or a real one. This is a terrible syndrome relying on the belief that if they flood the market with enough of their resumes, they may one day stack the deck in their favor and at least get an interview. This thinking couldn’t be further from the truth. A true job seeker has taken the time to adjust her or his cover letter to the uniqueness of the posting. It tells the recruiter or hiring manager that you took the time to read the posting, follow through, and present a clear picture of yourself to match described position.
Now that we have covered what a cover letter should do, how do you convey so much information in a few paragraphs? In a perfect world of percentages, a cover letter may break down as follows:
- 30% Translating your skills to match the posting.
- 30% Understanding the position.
- 15% Details and accomplishments from your resume.
- 15% Personal narrative.
This is the ‘perfect world’ scenario but every cover letter and position is different. Instead of thinking of it as a cookie-cutter path to cover letter success, let’s use it as a guide to help write your first professional cover letter or tweak and existing one. A cover letter, like your resume, is going to develop over time. We update our resume every six months…right? Why not update your cover letter? A new graduate won’t have the accomplishments to list but, they can expand upon their passion for the industry. Likewise, a veteran in the field may not need as much personal narrative, their accomplishments will speak for them.
In closing, I do not think a cover letter should be allowed to become a relic or a lost art. A candidate may have a wonderful resume full of team based accomplishments but how do they present their own work? Resume templates abound on the internet, as do cover letters. The internet may provide you with examples of what information will make the magical formula like above. However, the content of the cover letter is far more subjective than in a resume. The content, style and prose of your cover letter is an extension of the writer and can be the difference maker when it comes to creating a compelling case for yourself and why you deserve the position.
Recruiters and HR pros: Are you reading cover letters? Why or why not?