When you see a survey that says 55 percent of hiring managers don’t pay attention to cover letters, it may be tempting to think that you don’t need one. But consider that means that 4 out of 10 hiring managers do want to read one — and you don’t know whether the hiring manager for this job is one of the 55 percent or one of the 45 percent. Unless you are sure otherwise, it’s better safe than sorry.
Even hiring managers and recruiters who say they never read cover letters may find themselves drawn in by a particularly compelling letter. When they say they don’t want a cover letter, it’s because they don’t want to read a boring, basic letter. Like a résumé, the cover letter will only get a quick glance at first. But if you can tell a story with your letter, you may interest them in reading it — either instead of, or in addition to, your résumé.
So how do you know when you need to write a cover letter, or not?
The general guideline is that anytime you can’t hand your résumé directly to the hiring manager, you need a cover letter. It serves as a letter of introduction, allows you to share information that wouldn’t otherwise be on a résumé (for example, the reason why you made a job change in the past — or why you’re seeking one now), and communicates your qualifications and interest in this specific job.
An effective cover letter can make a match between what you have to offer and what the hiring company needs — even spelling out the specific ways you can meet the position’s requirements in written form. The letter is also an opportunity to let your personality shine through. You can set yourself apart from other candidates — and maybe even shore up some weaknesses that might otherwise keep you from getting an interview — with a targeted, well-written cover letter.
The cover letter can also impact the ability of your résumé to be found if you’re applying to a company through applicant tracking system software. Many online applications offer the candidate the opportunity to upload a letter, and this becomes part of the candidate’s full profile in the ATS database. A strong cover letter can enhance your ATS profile, making it more likely that your résumé will make it out of the database and get read by a hiring manager.
You can have a “template” cover letter, but it’s important to take the time to customize the cover letter before sending it off.
- The first thing you should do is research the company.
- Take a look at their website and LinkedIn company page.
- Google them. Look on research websites like Glassdoor and Vault.
- Get to know their needs and the specific role the position you’re applying for plays in the greater scheme of things.
This will help you ensure that your cover letter is attention-getting and relevant for the reader. (This research will also help you prepare for the job interview — which, of course, is the purpose of the résumé and cover letter.)
Action Item: Cover Letter Checklist.PDF