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Are Cover Letters Dead?

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The Purpose

Cover letters have long been associated with resumes and the job application process. In a time and a place when people were actually mailing resumes, the cover letter was a vital component that allowed the applicant to introduce himself and spell out why he was applying for a particular job. It was and still is imperative for the cover letter to be well-written with the correct grammar and vocabulary to grab the attention of the reader and influences him or her to call you in for an interview.

The cover letter is a great way to make your application stand out. While 95% of your resume will remain the same irrespective of the job, the same cannot be said for a cover letter – it really needs to be written specifically for each and every job.

The problem is that most people do not want to spend the time (read: hours) creating individual cover letter for each job application. The result is a cut and paste letter that makes your application stand out, but not in the way that you want!

Overall people hurt themselves by sending generic cover letters rather than help themselves by writing excellent ones. Given that track record, it is better to avoid sending a cover letter than to produce one that harms your chances for employment.

The Challenge

Recently, the wisdom of including a cover letter with a resume has been questioned. As resume submission transformed from US Postal mail to e-mail, the volume of applications for available positions increased dramatically. Given stationery, printing and mailing costs, it was not unusual to spend at least $1 on every resume mailed. With the advent of modern technology, there is no additional cost in e-mailing resumes for 100 as opposed to two positions, and a “how can it hurt” attitude now prevails. Google reports that it receives 3,000 resumes every day.

Under these circumstances, a very concise cover letter in the body of the e-mail containing your resume is most effective. Include 3-4 lines that indicate the position to which you are applying and a brief summary as to why you will make an excellent candidate for that position. Keep in mind that even here the writing is key.

Most major companies use online application systems, which use scanning technology to identify the applications that seem most relevant to a particular job posting. While a cover letter can allow you another opportunity to include the skills and keywords the system is seeking, the same rule applies: a generic cover letter will hurt you more than it can help you. Do not include a cover letter unless you take the time to tailor it for that specific position.

Some job applications require the submission of a cover letter. Under those circumstances, you really have no choice but to include one that is professional and targeted. It is quite likely that employers that require cover letters do so specifically to weed out less interested job applicants. This is your chance to demonstrate real interest in the position.

Some candidates really want to work for a particular employer. A targeted cover letter is a perfect way to demonstrate why this is your employer of choice and why you would make an excellent addition to their organization. That will allow you to stand out from among all the other applications.

Likewise, when a friend or a relative agrees to submit your resume on your behalf, a cover letter can be an effective way to ensure that your qualities are presented in the way you would like them to be presented, highlighting your skills and fit for that company and position.

The Format

Creating a cover letter (and even a resume) is an art and not a science, so there really is no one format or style to follow. The purpose of the cover letter is to indicate to the potential employer why you are the best candidate for the position or internship. So, what does a great cover letter look like? At Touro we advise our students to use a four paragraph format adapted from the Five O’clock Club.

The heading on the cover letter should match the contact information on your resume using the same style, font and including the same information. It should be addressed like a real letter with the name and title of the recipient, company and company address. If at all possible, address the letter to the hiring manager. Do the best you can to find out that person’s name via online searches, LinkedIn or even calls to the company (from a private number phone). If you cannot identify a contact, try to use something like “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Human Resource Professional” to make it slightly more personal. Never address a cover letter “To whom it may concern” or the equally nefarious “Dear Sir or Madam.” Doing so will make even the most targeted cover letter appear generic.

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One Response to “Are Cover Letters Dead?”

  1. Joseph Terach says:

    Good article! Here are some other interesting cover-letter posts: http://resumedeli.com/category/cover-letters/.

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