Many individuals coming to our career workshops are getting bogged down when it comes to writing cover letters. Their resumes are top notch and they are ready to get out there in the job market but they continue to ask “What should I put in my cover letter?” So here are my thoughts on the cover letter.
When all applications to jobs came by post the cover letter was a separate document that was attached to the resume and gave a great deal of preamble to one’s application. It included reference to the job being applied for, the reason the candidate was drawn to apply, the skills they bring and an abridged version of their employment history.
Fast forward to today
We live in an information overloaded business world and most private sector companies have all but abandoned a review of the cover letter as it merely gets in the way of getting to the resume (where all the juicy information resides). Recruiters now gain more applications, on average, per role that the process of resume review is a speed read of qualifications, skills, core competencies and employment history and within 3 minutes a decision to progress the application to interview stage is done.
Cover letters, if emailed with the resume, are not printed and often are only read if there is something missing in the resume. However even then a recruiter would conclude if the obvious information is not in the resume then the candidate is not necessarily worth pursuing.
Often advertisements posted on job boards or websites don’t even allow you to attach a cover letter. You have a text box to type your cover letter and it is no longer a pre-requisite.
What should go in a cover letter?
- A short reference to the job applied for: e.g. “Please find my resume for the role of Marketing Coordinator”.
- Keywords: as your application will go into a database that is keyword searchable make sure you throw in more keywords according to your specialisation. This gives you greater chance of being picked up in future database searches for similar roles.
- Contact details.
Sound too simple to be true? Trust me, recruiters will love you. It’s streamlined, you are no longer burdening decision makers with repetition and you allow them to get to the heart of the application – your resume.
When to concentrate on a detailed cover letter
Of course there are always exceptions to the rule … The Public Sector, Academia and Health and, even to an extent, some larger, often publicly listed companies have a more bureaucratic application process. They will call for a cover letter and will provide direction as to what the Cover Letter must address. There is also Selection Criteria that must be addressed and applicants may find themselves writing one page of notes per Selection Criteria. I have read these and I truly hope that those responsible for hiring in these situations have a rigorous process of reviewing ALL the information that comes in as the process is quite burdensome on the candidate and hiring party/parties.
In these situations, follow the instruction. If you miss a step in these formal processes, your application won’t get past the first selection round.