including a cover letter with your résumé is commonly considered a "golden rule" of job searching. But in this age of online applications and recruiters who need to scan material quickly, is this practice outdated?
Consider the following: For his book "Unbeatable Résumés: America's Top Recruiter Reveals What REALLY Gets You Hired," author Tony Beshara asked hiring authorities from a variety of disciplines the question "How important is a cover letter when you are receiving résumés?" Of the more than 3,000 respondents, 86 percent said "not very important."
So if only 14 percent of the people seeing your résumé consider a cover letter important, is it worth doing?
To send or not to send
"Unless the employer specifically requests a cover letter, I would recommend that candidates do not include one," says Jen Rallis, author of "Ugly Résumés Get Jobs." "Many recruiters only spend a few minutes scanning a résumé and disregard cover letters all together." Instead, she favors a well-written summary of qualifications specific to the position being applied to at the top of the résumé.
Many experts, however, make the case that a concise, targeted cover letter has value. "In a cover letter, you can precisely match your qualifications to job requirements and/or to the company to a degree that is difficult on a résumé," says Pennell Locey, senior consultant for Keystone Associates, a career management consulting firm headquartered in Boston. "Choose no more than five key points where you feel your qualifications directly make you a standout, and highlight the specifics of those in your letter. Bullet points rather than a narrative can make it easy for an employer to read."
"From a recruiting standpoint, I would likely look at a cover letter after reading someone's résumé," says Tracy Cashman, partner and general manager of the information technology division of Winter, Wyman -- one of the largest staffing firms in the Northeast. "I am more interested in examining a person's work experience and skills than reading the sometimes 'fluffy' nature of a cover letter." Still, she notes that a cover letter can be helpful, especially when it explains something that can't really be covered in the résumé itself, such as a gap in employment history or a position outside the person's obvious career track. Cashman's colleague Beverly Morgan -- a partner in Winter, Wyman's human resources division -- adds that a cover letter should mention anyone you know within the organization to build a personal connection.
Making the decision
Obviously, if a job ad asks for a cover letter, one should be included because failure to do so looks like you aren't following directions. Likewise, the decision is already made when an online application only allows space for a résumé. For other cases, it is difficult to tell what role a cover letter may or may not play in the hiring process.
While a cover letter is typically placed before a résumé, Beshara's survey respondents frequently said that if they read a cover letter at all, they did so after examining the résumé. Thus, applicants may want to reconsider how they approach their material, realizing that their résumé must be the attention-grabber.
When an applicant does include a cover letter, Beshara stresses that it must be concise. "I can't tell you the number of résumés I receive with a full-page cover letter that will rarely, if ever, get read ...You have to make an impact quickly, with specifics that say 'You need to interview me.'"
Other tips Beshara has for job seekers who choose to send cover letters include:
· Having a phone conversation with the hiring authority beforehand and then referencing that call in the letter.
· Using bullet points to list accomplishments that apply to the specific job opening.
· Quantifying achievements using numbers, statistics and percentages.
· Focusing on what you can do for the company, not on your own needs.
Lastly, Beshara and others urge candidates to ditch any generic cover letters. "As a rule of thumb: If your cover letter could be true for any job/company you apply for, then it isn't targeted enough," Locey says. So if you've decided sending a cover letter is worth your time, do it right and let the reader know you wrote it just for him.
Beth Braccio Hering researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder. Follow @Careerbuilder on Twitter.
By BETH BRACCIO Careerbuilder.com
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Is the cover letter finally dead?
This will forever change how you apply for jobs.
You’ve surely been in this scenario: You’ve poured your blood, sweat and tears into crafting the perfect resume, and just as you’re ready to attach it to your job application and click send, you come across this line: Cover letter (optional).
Ergh. Talk about a pull-your-hair-out kind of moment. You’re wondering: “Do I really need to submit one? Does it hurt my chances if I don’t? Besides, does anyone even read these anymore?” Ask and you shall receive.
We spoke with recruiters and career experts to find out whether cover letters are still relevant in today’s job market and what you really need to get ahead in the interview process.
The verdict is...drumroll please…
Sara Brooke, a recruiter at Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) in Nashville, Tennessee, confirms what you suspect: Recruiters don’t read cover letters and hiring managers don’t have time to—they only spend six seconds reading your resume as it is.
In most cases, your resume does not go straight to the hiring manager. Rather, it often goes to a recruiter who then reviews your qualifications and follows up with a phone call to screen you. The recruiter essentially takes on the responsibility of selling the hiring manager on why you’re a good match for the job.
“In a way, you can say that we have become the cover letter,” says Brooke.
Not to mention, considering how big of a role social media is playing in the recruiting process, the cover letter is very likely becoming obsolete. A recent study by the Society For Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 84% of employers use social media to recruit job applicants. Why? It’s quicker, saves productivity and revenue, and it allows companies to scout A-grade talent that may not be actively looking for a job.
If the job does in fact require a cover letter, keep in mind that only 18% of hiring managers rank the cover letter as an important element of the hiring process, Addison Group, a Boston-based employment agency, found.
So if the cover letter is a no-go, what can you do to stand out?
Add this in place of your cover letter
The point of a cover letter is to build a bridge between yourself and the hiring manager. It shows you have something to say, that you know about the job and are interested in working for the company, says Martin Yate, author Knock ’em Dead: The Ultimate Job Search Guide.
Today’s digital landscape allows you to accomplish all that and more. Experts suggest designing an eye-catching resume or building a portfolio with relevant examples.
Brooke also advises you to provide solid references and get a letter of recommendation. References are a great opportunity for someone to say to the hiring manager that you were a good employee in your last position—and here is the proof.
Focus your time and energy on your resume
Recruiters say it takes an average of 60 seconds to decide whether a candidate is viable on paper. Since your resume is only given a glance, Brooke says recruiters focus on figuring out whether you have the skill set, education and years of experience required for the job—so make sure your resume has those answers.
Submitting a cover letter? Make sure you do it right
While cover letters may be on the decline, Shannon Nolde, lead recruiter at Zendesk, a software development company in San Francisco, says they have more value in specific jobs and industries—e.g., a creative job in marketing, public relations or content fields where writing is prevalent.
If this is the case for you, Tim Windhof, executive resume writer at Windhof Career Services in Columbus, Ohio, says your cover letter should address the following: how you learned of the opportunity, how your qualifications match the job requirements, your possible availability in the area and how you can be contacted.
If you’re still debating about whether you should spend the time writing a cover letter, Brooke advises that you ask yourself, “What's more important, a paragraph explaining why you want the job, or bulleted facts in your resume or portfolio that show you have the skills to do this job?”
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