Two different opinions
Some recruiters believe it's critical that applicants include cover letters, while others say it's
not necessary; I’ll share my thoughts in a minute.
The purpose of a cover letter is to create a brief overview of your strengths and achievements
that will sell the recruiter on you as a candidate, and to entice them into learning more about
you by spending time with your resume. Why are you the ideal candidate? What do you bring
to the table? How are you superior to the other applicants? The goal here is to help the recruit-
er focus on your exceptional and unique qualities, and make them highly interested in you.
When you post your resume online to job boards where recruiters are searching, it’s generally
not expected that you include a cover letter because in this scenario you have no way of
knowing which company will be reading your resume. On the other hand, when you apply to a
specific company for a specific position, then a cover letter is more appropriate. In this situa-
tion, then, your cover letter should not only give a brief overview of your strengths and
achievements, but also explain why you believe you’re nicely matched to the specific position
for which you’re applying.
Truth is, my standard practice is to always review the resume first--even if a cover letter has
been included. By reviewing the resume, I’m able to eliminate 95% or so of the candidates
because typically that many of them don’t fit what I’m looking for; therefore, reading a cover
letter--when it's included--is a waste of my time. Remember, to a recruiter, time is everything!
The only time I actually read a cover letter is if and when I find a strong candidate that I want to
learn more about, and they've included a cover letter. Actually, only 5% of candidates include
a cover letter with their resume, and really, I don’t mind at all if a candidate doesn’t. If a
resume shows that a candidate is nicely qualified for the position I’m recruiting for, I’ll move
forward with a phone interview, and any information that may have otherwise been included in
a cover letter can be covered at that time. So should you include a cover letter with your
resume? That’s purely a matter of your personal preference, but if you do, make sure it's a
When composing your cover letter, your goal is to create a clear and concise overview of your
strengths and accomplishments, not simply a checklist of your job titles and what you’ve done.
The recruiter will be reading your cover letter and resume asking:
- What are your capabilities?
- What can you do for us?
Your words should absolutely answer those questions by clarifying the direct benefits they
would receive from bringing you on board. One way to effectively and concisely state your
strengths and achievements is to list them in bullet format; this allows the recruiter to quickly
and easily get a sense of what you’re all about. Maintain a clean and simple format, and keep
it brief. The ideal cover letter is no more than half a page in length. The language should be
concise and professional, and not filled with jargon, acronyms or buzzwords. Use just one kind
of font, and if you use bold or underlined words, it should be very limited. Make sure you
include a good amount of 'white space' on the page.
When you’re applying for a specific position, the cover letter should absolutely be personal-
ized to that company and the specific job, whenever possible. By doing so, this shows your
attention to detail and your willingness to put forth effort, placing you ahead of 95% of the
applicants that won’t bother. Part of personalizing your cover letter is to address it to the
correct person. Call the company for the name and correct spelling of the contact person, but
if they won't divulge that information, do a little research online to see if you can find it. Look
on the employment page of the company’s website to see if they list the appropriate person’s
name; sometimes you can get their name from the email address where resumes are to be
sent. Network with others to see if someone has connections within the company, or look in
your LinkedIn network, if you have one. You should be aware, however, that simply getting a
recruiter’s name and contact information may not be good enough; most companies of any
size have more than one recruiter, so getting your resume and cover letter to the correct
recruiter is going to be the challenge! Don't spend endless time on this; if you're not able to
get the correct recruiter's name in a short amount of time, then you can use the (well-worn)
cliché: ‘To Whom It May Concern’ or ‘Dear Sir or Madam’.
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Let me share a recent experience with a candidate that tried to
personalize a cover letter, but it had a very negative impact. A
friend of mine is an engineering manager, and he had a team
member with a bad attitude and poor work habits. The manager
made numerous attempts to work with the engineer, yet he
continued to under-perform; finally my friend made the decision
that it was time to ‘weed the garden’ by finding a replacement,
and I was asked to help. Because the person was going to be
kept on board until a replacement was found, it was critical that
the job postings I placed online didn’t divulge in any way who
the company was; my postings were totally anonymous, and
didn’t even indicate what the industry was. It was interesting,
then, to receive a cover letter from a candidate who said he
was ‘looking forward to working for your exciting company.’ (I’m
not making this stuff up!) He knew absolutely nothing about the
company—not even the industry. So was I supposed to be
impressed by his insincere and cheap (very cheap) attempt at
personalizing his cover letter? Let me assure you, I wasn’t.
Don’t start out with a boring and oh-so-common introductory
sentence, such as: ’As a result of your job posting in Seattle
Times newspaper, attached please find a copy of my resume
for your review.’ 75% of applicants will have the same or similar
type of opening line, which does nothing to catch the recruiter’s
attention, and it certainly doesn’t create a sense of urgency or
excitement about you!
You have only seconds to make a positive impression, so grab the recruiter's attention from
the start by stating the benefits you bring to the table, and why you’re a strong candidate for
the position. Show your personality, and limit the number of times you use the words I, me, or
my. Here’s an example of how you can rewrite your cover letter to tighten up and eliminate the
I’m enclosing my resume to express my interest in your Electrical Engineering position.
I have eight years of experience as an EE, and I believe this makes me well-qualified
for the position you currently have available.
Eight years' experience as an Electrical Engineer and a solid history of successful
project management are key elements that qualify me to become a key member of
Just as when you create your resume, edit, edit, edit your cover letter! Make sure there are no
misspellings or grammatical errors. Once you’re satisfied that it’s perfect, pass it on to some-
one you know that has strong proofreading skills.
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