Friday, November 6, 2009

Cover Letters

I've been thinking about cover letters this week, and decided that it is an are of job searching about which I have very mixed feelings. There are numerous places to find tips on cover letters, but the question that I always come back to is: Are traditional cover letters necessary? I think that in many circumstances, they are not at all necessary. I'm going to address this in a Q&A format, just for a change of pace.

Do you read cover letters?
Personally, I only very rarely even read cover letters. This is a mistake in some cases, since there can be very interesting information in cover letters, but with common wisdom being that most resume reviewers only spend 15-45 seconds on a resume, how much time do they spend on a cover letter? In my case, it's none.

Now, as a contingency recruiter, I tend to review more resumes than a typical hiring manager (the target audience for your resume), and I tend to have specific things I'm looking for in a resume. My caveat, is that I generally read the introduction e-mails that people include with their resumes (as long as they are brief). However, if I receive a resume via mail, or if there is a Word document attachment of a cover letter, I will not read it.

What if the job posting asks for it?
Many job postings still ask for a cover letter, and I think that the general tips about a cover letter are appropriate when it is requested. However, as long as you are doing the due diligence and calling and speaking to the hiring manager before sending a resume, I think that a cover letter is still an unnecessary distraction. Whoever is looking at your resume should be expecting it, and the content that would normally be in a cover letter would have already been discussed over the phone.

What if I never reached anybody on the phone?
A brief introductory e-mail (2-3 sentences) is all that is necessary. Example:

I have attached my resume for your review for the Sr. Recruiter position. I have 10 years of contingency and corporate recruiting experience and have billed an average of $1,000,000 per year for the last 5 years. Please call me at 202-555-1212 and we can arrange a time to get together to discuss further.

Your resume should do all of the talking about your background, and you shouldn't be applying to positions for which you aren't qualified, so that should just about cover it.

In what circumstances would a cover letter be appropriate?
1. If you are applying to a position for which you are not qualified, you need a cover letter or introductory e-mail that explains that you understand you aren't qualified.

2. If you are sending a job inquiry without a resume (advocated in this book that is worth looking at), a well-crafted introduction letter will look similar to a cover letter.

3. If you are applying for a position that is not in the city in which you live, you must include a cover letter or e-mail that explains your relocation status immediately. Are you willing to relocate at your own expense? Do you have connections to the area? Are you already planning your move? Unless the company was explicitly considering out-of-town candidates, you should explain this.

Does it hurt to send one?
In most cases, no. But if it isn't helping you or the hiring manager, why bother?

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