Career Link: The Art of the Cover Letter

At a recent panel of Human Resource professionals from Deloitte, Excel Energy and other top Minnesota companies, not a single representative said they read the cover letter submitted by an applicant.  For those of us who have spent a great deal of time and energy writing, proof reading and polishing our job seeking documents, this seemed incredibly disheartening. The job seeker must write a targeted resume, attempt to network their way into the company and, in most cases, supply several writing samples, all before he or she even has a chance at an interview.  Spending time on a cover letter would seem trivial and worthless, especially since most recruiters don’t read them.

But there is a glimmer of light for the cover letter. Of the panelists, each stated that cover letters are a great tool for selling additional skills or providing insight into the applicant that could not be made available with the resume.  Each recruiter stressed that if a cover letter is requested as part of the application, be sure to provide one, but if it is not required, do not spend time on it.

Cover letters can serve many purposes, most importantly, to fully introduce the whole candidate to the recruiter.

Cover letters explain things…

Job gaps, out of state applicants, and a very important, direct tie to the specific company, can all be explained in detail within a cover letter.  Perhaps the job seeker received a college scholarship from the founding board member, or has been an avid consumer for years.  These ties can be explained in detail through the cover letter as an added selling point of the applicant.  If the job seeker is looking to relocate to a new state, that of the corporation, their reasoning can right any confusion or fear from the recruiter.  Lastly, almost all job seekers have job gaps, either due to a layoff, birth of a child or an opportunity that didn't pan out.  The cover letter can provide reasoning if needed.

Here are a few quick tips for cover letter success:

  • The job seekers qualification and the cover letter should not match the resume.
  • It should only be three paragraphs long, and should not be a research paper.  Short and simple.
  • Follow business format, left aligned, and professional wording.

This document, while less important that the resume, will serve as the first impression of the candidate. It will display their writing abilities and style as well as their natural voice.  Do not let the additional to opportunity to sell yourself be wasted simply because the thought of ripping out your own toe nails is more appealing than writing one more document for an application.  For all you know it could be the reason you get the second resume glance, first interview, or final job offer.