Is the once coveted Cover Letter heading out to pasture?
Many people would argue that in today’s technology rich environment cover letters have become redundant. With all the personal information available on LinkedIn and other social media platforms, and in a time where recruiters and managers are becoming more time poor and are using technology ranking, there is validity to the argument that cover letters no longer have value. However, does that mean that cover letters should be abandoned and the time and effort in developing these spent on other activities?
There are many conflicting viewpoints which paint effective arguments, however, our insights and analysis of recruitment activity shows that there are clear patterns of what works and what doesn’t. And our conclusion is that the cover letter is even more relevant today!
As we connect with candidates in relation to their careers, and coach individuals in career transition, we hear constant feedback about outcomes that candidates achieve. They’re faced with today’s job postings receiving hundreds of applications, having to compete and jostle for attention, and what better way to stand out than providing a tailored and detailed account of why they are the perfect candidate for the role.
When cover letters have specificity to the role in question, they can provide far greater insight into motivation and specific attributes than almost any other medium. A great cover letter can, and should:
- Provide a clear rationale of your interest in this specific role AND the organisation.
- Demonstrate research undertaken into the organisation, it’s culture and objectives moving forward and the alignment between these and your values, skills and experience.
- Allow you to articulate and really connect your background to the specific criteria required for the role.
- Provide information on how you might address and resolve any potential skill gaps.
- Present a great opportunity for long and detailed professional backgrounds to provide a succinct summary of the most relevant sections of that history.
- Translate and align any international experiences into the context of the role in question.
- Provide explanation for any gaps, potential question marks in career history, recent location moves or willingness to relocate.
- Provide an opportunity for you to draw links between non-employment related skills, experience and interests.
- Re-iterate your suitability and enthusiasm for the role.
Additionally, position titles today are extremely broad and varied – what does Director/VP/General Manager/Chief actually entail in the context of that particular organisation. A cover letter provides an opportunity to give more context and clarity around what a role actually involved beyond a potentially vague title, and again connecting this to the position/ organisation.
Equally of importance, a cover letter should be well formatted and be engaging – much more than a generic repeat of your resume. If this is not achieved, more harm than good will be done! We therefore see the best cover letters to:
- Be one page only, tailored to the role and not word dense;
- Talk directly to the key requirements of the role (including selection criteria);
- Use the same language as the advertisement, be positive and succinct;
- Have an opening paragraph that explains why you are writing;
- Highlight your match to the selection criteria (bullet point format);
- Outline additional characteristics and highlight strengths; and
- Include a positive close and call to action.
Finally, if there is concern around a recruiter or manager reading a separate document, add your cover letter to the start of your resume, putting the key selling points right up front.
You may not be the only person writing them, but a well-constructed cover letter is a critical element to have in your job search and career networking toolkit, and will support you as you look to stand out from the crowd.
Peter Bowen is Managing Partner of deliberatepractice, a vibrant, contemporary, leading HR consulting firm. For over 9 years deliberatepractice has delivered contemporary and practical HR & Career solutions across Australia, drawing upon deep specialisation in HR Recruitment, Leadership Assessment & Development and Outplacement.