QUICKIE #1: ARE COVER LETTERS IMPORTANT?

Tuesday, August 09, 2016 Gabrielle Bill 0 Comments



Every once in a while, I get a question from a colleague, reader or client that's crazy important, but just doesn't have enough "meat" to be an intense, story-driven blog post (and as you know, those are my favorite to write). It's meant that, 'til now, I've bypassed using this content for Career & The City and just answered these folks directly. But today I got to thinking.

I said, "Self. This is dumb. Who says you can't write a post that's straightforward, factual and still an interesting read? Not I!"

And thus the concept of the "Quickie" was born. You'll find these posts to be shorter, punchier and perhaps more list-driven than normal, but I hope that in spite of the new format, you find them just as insightful and helpful.

If you've got a question on your mind that you'd like me to address in an upcoming Quickie, I want to hear it! Just drop it into the comments section below or leave it on my Facebook page.

And now for today's Q...

Are cover letters still a thing? 

It depends. (Of course, nothing in the job search is black and white, what did you expect?)

In my experience, I've seen hiring managers who will pore over every ounce of your resume, then devour your cover letter (and maybe even hold it against you if you didn't submit one). Other hiring managers simply can't be bothered, and if they look at your resume for more than 30 seconds you're lucky.

Some companies make submitting cover letters optional; others don't even give you the chance to add one to your application. But truthfully, if the only way you're applying for jobs these days is via submitting blindly online, we've got bigger fish to fry.

Ultimately, a well-crafted, strategically written and expertly used cover letter can, and often does, increase the likelihood that your candidacy will be considered. But that's the catch...it needs to be done, and delivered, in the right way.

Here are a few tips for making your cover letter work in your favor:

1) It absolutely, 100% MUST be customized for the employer and job that you are applying to. Generic cover letters DO NOT WORK, and they are as easy to spot as a coffee stain on a white t-shirt. Address your cover letter to a real person and talk specifically about why this company and this job piqued your interest. Your cover letter is another opportunity to provide a compelling argument as to why I should give you a chance, so use the space for that purpose!

2) Be brief. Write out everything you want to say and then delete half of it. Aim to take up 1/2 to 3/4 of a page and NEVER send a multi-page letter. Remember that this document is meant to be a supplement to your resume, not regurgitation of what's already there. Use the content to expand upon a certain skill set or to tell me a story I haven't already heard. Just do it in as few words as you can to show you not only respect my time, but also understand how to prioritize information and focus on what's key.

3) Show don't tell. This advice is old, but it's critical. If you tell me that you're a strong communicator, I can choose whether or not to believe you (and because I've never met you, chances are I won't). If you SHOW me that you're a strong communicator by giving me an example of a time you solved a problem through expert teamwork or secured a client thanks to a stellar presentation, I have no choice but to walk away understanding it's a skill you possess. Every time you find yourself listing out a bunch of skills, force yourself to take a step back, pick THE most important skill to highlight and then explain to me why you count that among your strengths.

4) Use this as an opportunity to explain away any "questions" about your candidacy. Are you a job switcher looking to enter into a new industry or function? Use your cover letter to tell me why you're making that move and why I shouldn't be concerned about your lack of direct experience. Do you have any large gaps in your employment history? Help me understand why that's the case and how you've been spending your time in the meanwhile. Some recruiters or hiring managers will be looking at your application finding reasons to say no. Eliminate that to the degree that you can by proactively addressing any issues that could give the hiring manager pause.

5) Aim to send your cover letter and resume to a real person that you've previously connected with in addition to submitting both online. When someone knows you or refers you to a colleague, the recipient is much more likely to actually read and pay attention to the materials they've received. Maybe you've networked with someone at the company who knows the hiring manager? Ask them to forward your documents along with a note about how you met. If you've previously spoken to a recruiter at the company (even if they're not the recruiter for that role), same game. Depending on your relationship and whether you intend for the email to be forwarded to someone else, you might even try pasting your content into the body of the note. Not having to open two attachments further reduces barriers to the content being read.

What other questions do you have about cover letters? Let me know in the comments section below, and I'll do my best to address them, or if you think you need more 1:1 help, feel free to snag a 30-minute consultation and we can chat about working together.

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So who am I, you ask? Well, I'm a career coach and consultant who believes everyone should be working in a job that leaves them feeling fulfilled. I coach groups and individuals through a reflection process, uncovering often hidden motivations, values, goals and skills as they relate to careers. These reflections are then parlayed into concrete action plans to guide clients through the process of finding, creating and landing their dream jobs. You can learn more by visiting www.gabriellebill.com


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