Cover Letter Debate: How to Know When to Send One

Job seekers who have received advice from others on how to get a job in this tight job market have likely heard the statement “make yourself stand out” on many occasions.  There are a bunch of great strategies out there that, when followed, can really make a difference in a job search.  To stand out, you need to do all the things that set yourself apart from everyone else and gets you noticed.  Likewise, if you are a job seeker it is best to utilize the various job search strategies, but many strategies offer that you do not need to send a cover letter with your resume because many hiring managers do not read them.

Does that make sense? It doesn’t to me. If the word used to quantify the number of hiring managers who do not read cover letters is not a verifiable all, then a job seeker truly cannot afford to skip out on this task.

More and more, I am reading articles and discussions about whether or not job seekers should send a cover letter with their resume.  I am actually a bit shocked to learn that many experts are advising job seekers that they are not necessary because hiring managers do not feel they are important, and therefore, do not read them.

However, is it fair to say that some (or many) hiring managers do read them and will toss out the resumes that do not have cover letters attached? I know it is.  And if that is a fair statement, then I do believe that it should end this great debate. Yes, for that reason alone, you should always send a cover letter with your resume.

It is true that many hiring managers do not read cover letters. I did not read the cover letters from most of the candidates who applied for an open position.  In my mind, if the resume didn’t meet the standards, there was nothing a cover letter could say to fix that.  But, when a resume did meet the standards and my interest was piqued, it had to have a cover letter attached or I tossed it.

To me, a cover letter was used as the second piece of data that I used to qualify candidates. And there are many others out there like me.  However, I know of several hiring managers who read the cover letter first. They feel that if a candidate can’t write well or sell him/herself properly then they don’t care if he or she was otherwise qualified. With email being the primary form of business communication, many hiring managers use the cover letter as one means of assessing candidates’ writing skills.

While many job seekers have a lot of content online and perhaps that content could replace the cover letter, it is never safe to assume that potential employers will see it.  If 70-80% of employers are Googling candidates then that would mean that 20-30% are not. These employers are utilizing the traditional method of qualifying candidates solely by their cover letter and resume. Remember, there are many hiring managers who are in the group of people who do not utilize social media at all.

Unless you are told or a job ad specifically states, “do not send a cover letter”, then I would always send one.  A cover letter done properly can really leverage your chances of landing a job interview.

Cover letters should always be personalized to the specific company. This can be done easily by addressing it to the right person and mentioning things you might know about them sporadically throughout the letter. The content should concentrate more on the value you can bring to them and less on describing yourself and your work history. You do not need to write out the same details that are in your resume.  Just show how you will add value; show them what you can bring to them and make yourself stand out.  And, it should be free of grammatical and spelling errors!

I know there are many hiring managers that never read cover letters – not at any point in time in their process.  For those hiring managers, I would agree that drafting up a cover letter truly is a waste of time. But if you don’t know who those people are then it is dangerous to assume what their preference is in this regard.

I have never heard of an employer who has tossed out a candidate simply based on the presence of a cover letter. But I have heard of many who toss out a candidate because one is missing.  Why take the chance?

Jessica Simko is a seasoned senior level Human Resources professional with over 15 years of experience in all facets of Human Resources Management. She is a Career Coach and Consultant specializing in helping all levels of career professionals create, build, and maintain a strong career brand in the corporate work culture. She strives to help people connect their passions with their jobs and then to leverage their brand to maximize their potential throughout their careers. She offers a wide variety of career branding articles and tips at Career Branding Guide where she also offers coaching and consulting services based on the Career Branding Guide model. Feel free to connect with her on:

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