Cover Letters: Worth the Effort?
As a recruiter, I get asked about cover letters a lot. The questions go something like this:
“Shall I write a cover letter?”
“Do you even read cover letters?”
“What should I put into my cover letter?”
“How can I make my cover letter stand out?”
Following on from last week’s blog about interview technique and recognising that the job market is more competitive than ever, I have a few thoughts on this topic that may be helpful to you.
Let’s start at the top:
TO WRITE OR NOT TO WRITE A COVER LETTER
I think of a cover letter like the handshake (or an elbow tap - as is the current case), the smile or the eye contact that precedes the resume.
It is your opportunity to put some personality behind your candidacy.
On numerous occasions, I have read a resume and have been sitting on the fence about the fit of the background to the role at hand. Then I have read the cover letter and have promptly picked-up the phone. The cover letter did its job of giving me some idea of the person sitting behind the resume and I wanted to know more. In that instance, I would say that the time spent writing the cover letter was well worth the effort.
The sceptics among us may argue that a recruiter reviewing hundreds of resumes will not even open up a cover letter, so why put the time into writing one? My response to that is simply, “why wouldn’t you?”. If there is even a chance that your cover letter gets you out of the maybe pile and into the call pile, then do it!
Outside of injecting some personality into your application, a cover letter has many other uses for the recruiter.
I use cover letters to assess an individual’s ability to string a sentence together.
Where there is a strong written communication component to the role, it provides a rough guide on the individual’s command over structure, spelling and grammar.
It also tells me a lot about the applicant’s attention to detail and level of care in their work.
Oh, the number of times I have opened up a cover letter to see that it is addressed to another person, in another organisation, for another role entirely (at which point, I have promptly moved onto the next application).
HOW CAN I MAKE MY COVER LETTER STAND OUT?
I understand that writing is not everyone’s strength, so I have a few useful points that you could think about when writing your next cover letter.
Please, address the cover letter to the right person, in the right organisation, regarding the right role.
Share your motivation for applying. Why are you applying? Why do you want the job?
Succinctly demonstrate how your background is a fit for the role.
Check your spelling, grammar and sentence structure. No mistakes.
Focussing on my third point, where you demonstrate how your background is a fit for the role, I would like to share one of the best cover letter techniques I have ever seen. Its beauty is in its simplicity.
It goes like this:
You are looking for:
I offer you:
Read the job advertisement and pick out the top three experiences, competencies or behaviours the recruiter seems to be looking for and address them, head-on. For example:
You are looking for: Proven experience managing change and transformation in a Retail GM Operations role.
I offer you: 12 years’ experience as GM Operations from X Retailer and Y Retailer, both with a remit for transformation. At Y Retailer, I developed and implemented a new Workforce Planning tool that meant a significant change in the operating procedures for each store as well as for the leadership and communication rhythms of the network.
Get the idea? The format provides enough room to outline an interesting example that makes the recruiter understand you might have what it takes and want to know more. The use of the word “you” is quite powerful here too. It personalises the cover letter and gives the impression that you are speaking directly to the individual and their needs.
THE FUTURE OF COVER LETTERS
Video is becoming more and more a part of the application process and I can hear some of you saying, “why wouldn’t I just shoot a quick video, instead?”
There is a whole blog topic there, alone. My short answer is to go for it. You can apply the same basic ideas of writing a good cover letter to the content of making good covering video and you can more easily inject your personality into a video.
The edge that a cover letter has for me is that I can see how the individual writes and structures their thoughts. It also takes time and care to write a good cover letter and it shows me how serious the applicant is about the job. I also hope we never get to a world where human writing skills are redundant.
My overriding advice is to spend time writing a thoughtful cover letter. Your goal with a job application is to get the recruiter to call you. Once you have them on the phone, you then have a fighting chance of progressing your application because your resume has a voice behind it.
If your cover letter gets the recruiter to pick-up the phone, then why wouldn’t you write a decent one?
If you would like some assistance writing a cover letter or would like to run something by me before you submit an important application, please get in touch.
I am happy to help.