Recently I came across a very well written and formatted resume. And the cover letter was extremely detailed. But when I looked at the job description the person was applying for, I knew that, from a recruiter’s perspective, the person would never be considered.
Where was the problem?
The problem was that the resume was “generic” and the cover letter was tailored. It was the cover letter that had all the important details pertaining to the job description. Unfortunately, since most likely the cover letter was never read, the person was never invited to the interview.
There is a lot of advice about tailoring your cover letter, as supposedly it explains your resume.
This made sense in the time of snail mail.
Think about it.
When you first open an envelope, from anyone…naturally, you always read the letter first.
Today, you don’t send letters to apply for a job; you submit your application on line.
Technology has sped up all the processes. If, say 20 years ago, a recruiter posted a job, it would take him or her, by regular mail, a few days, if not weeks, to receive applications from many candidates.
Today, recruiters can receive hundreds of resumes in a matter of days. I know I did.
Recruiters have only short time to screen all applicants. That’s why they go directly to the source of candidates’ skills and experience. Which is your resume.
And the logic goes like this…
If the person does not have the required skills, why bother reading their cover letter.
If they do have the skills…I don’t need to read the cover letter.
These days, the cover letter has simply turned into a polite gesture. It certainly should be well written, in case someone reads it. But don’t focus on it too much. Double check that it is properly dated and addressed and that it mentions the right position and company. But the actual content can be relatively formal and generic. In 3 paragraphs explain why you are suitable for the position and highlight some key strengths. But it will not make it or break it your chances for getting an interview in the corporate world.
On the other hand, if your RESUME does not list what the recruiter is looking for, THAT will break your chances of getting invited to an interview. Even if you have a beautifully detailed cover letter.
So what should you do now?
When you apply on line, if you are in a rush, don’t worry about the cover letter. If you want to include a personal note, it’s better to write a quick email accompanying your resume attachment. If you are applying on-line, you can paste the same note into the cover letter window. Keep it short and sweet.
The most important thing in your job application is your resume, not the cover letter. It’s the same thing as a “must have” and “nice to have”. Make sure that your “must have” (your resume) stands out.
(Of course, I am speaking mostly of the corporate world. If you’re applying to a job in academia, or the medical or legal field, or anywhere where the hiring is done by committee, the cover letter plays a much larger role.)
Marina Gapeenkova, CHRP, HR and Recruitment Specialist
Author of Invincible Interview, What Every Candidate Needs To Know To Succeed At An Interview