I’ve been getting asked this question a lot lately. Every job seeker wants to optimize the search process to give themselves the best chance of getting hired. But they also want to focus their limited time and energy on the strategies and tactics most likely to result in finding a job. We’ve seen the job application process change substantially over the past 25 years. It’s become more automated. The volumes of applicants for every job posting have increased. So naturally, the value of the cover letter (and the conventional resume for that matter) have been called into question.
Many job seekers want to know – should I invest the time writing cover letters?
In my opinion, the answer is No.
I realize this perspective will be met with a degree of criticism. A quick google search reveals pages of results offering the exact opposite advice. But let me share my counterargument and you can make the best decision for your own job search.
Here are 3 reasons you should stop wasting your time writing cover letters:
I don’t think hiring managers read cover letters. I can only speak from my own experience and from what I observe other executives doing, but my reality is that if I read 200 resumes in 2015, I probably read 3 cover letters at most. Maybe there was a time years ago when you mailed your resume to a person where a cover letter would make sense, but in the current, online scenario, I don’t see managers reading them.
Cover letters offer a zero upside proposition. On the few occasions I have actually read cover letters, they almost always disqualified the candidate from further consideration because they were either poorly written or demonstrated a lack of understanding of the company or the role. Ok ... so then why not just write better cover letters? Because I don’t think there is anything to be gained here. There is such a low probability that a) you’re going to write anything in the cover letter that will truly differentiate you as a candidate AND b) that the hiring manager will actually read it in the first place, that I just don’t see positive expected value from writing one. There is more chance that you’re going to disqualify yourself as a result of your cover letter than you’re going to give yourself any significant advantage over the competition.
Your energy should be spent modernizing your resume instead. The great irony is that I see so many people investing time and energy writing personalized cover letters that never get read, but they are still rocking the same Word Doc, Times New Roman, traditional resume that actually DOES get read. It’s vexing frankly. My advice is to cool it with the cover letters and instead invest your energy building a visual or graphical resume that can differentiate you from other candidates and tell your story in a compelling way. Read my blog on visual resumes to learn more.
But … There is one scenario where a cover letter of sorts is needed. That is, when you’re emailing a resume directly to someone – I’m talking about the actual content of the email message. A couple pointers for writing the email message you’re sending to the hiring manager or recruiter which includes your resume as an attachment.
Don’t write an email and then also attach a cover letter. This is just weird. I see it more often than you’d think. A personal email message introducing the candidate and then two attachments – the resume (yes) and a separate cover letter (weird). Don’t do this.
Be specific about the ONE role you’re applying for. Nothing gets a candidate disqualified faster than applying for multiple roles at the same time or expressing interest in “many of the positions” posted on the website. This is like a wearing a sign saying you don’t have specific expertise and aren’t sure what you want. As a rule – don’t apply to multiple jobs at the same company at the same time.
Keep your email message to 100 words or less. Your goal with this email message is only to get the person interested enough to open the resume attachment – that’s it. You can’t win anything at this stage – you can only lose. So keep the message short to minimize the risk of doing damage. Introduce yourself, express your interest in the specific role you’re applying for, make note that you feel your expertise and experience make you a good fit for the role, request that they review your resume, and ask for some kind of follow up. That’s it – should be 4 sentences at most.
Here’s an example:
My name is Brendan Reid and I’m very interested in the Public Relations Manager role you have posted. I think my 7 years’ experience in PR, and in particular my time at ACME Company, make me uniquely well suited for this opportunity. I’ve attached my resume for your review and if you’re amendable to it, I’d love to do a 15 minute call next week so I can share my background in more detail with you.
Let me know about your experience with cover letters either as a job seeker or a hiring manager. I’d love to hear your perspective.
If you want to hear more about how the job search has changed and what adjustments you should be making to your strategy, check out this clip from a recent keynote speech I did.
Also note since writing this blog i found another good one making an argument against cover letters from undercover recruiter I think you might also enjoy.