How to Write a Cover Letter – Don’t!

woman writing a cover letter for resumeI think cover letters are dead. Learning how to write a good cover letter is taking you down a useless rabbit hole. It could take a couple of hours, you will research letter templates online, maybe download a few…and in general drive yourself nuts as to what to put in it and how to format it.

“How to write a cover letter for a resume” should really read “Why a simple cover letter in email is all you need”. Why? Most companies with more than a handful of employees will have a very efficient human resources department, and likely some form of automated resume system for job seekers. This means almost everything you submit goes either directly into a resume software system, or to one or more email boxes of internal recruiters.

What happens next is your resume is scanned – either automatically or my a recruiter, and if it doesn’t meet the basic needs of the open job position, it gets rejected quickly. Very quickly.

Why Writing a Cover Letter Doesn’t Help

I likely will be in the minority of guidance you find online around this topic. Writing a good cover letter – regardless of format or templates used, simply won’t help your chances at any company but the smallest. Why? Because hiring managers are busy. In fact if they have open positions they are even busier filling in for the empty gap in their organization. The HR department is busy fielding online submissions [and still the occasional written mailed submission] for the open position. In over 20 years of experience I have only seen a cover letter reach my desk a handful of times. And I never read it.

Why? Because I can scan a resume in 30 seconds and know if the individual is a potential fit and worth having HR do a phone screen on. A cover letter is not going to tell me anything a resume doesn’t. In fact, as you research how to write your cover letter, you will find they all say basically the same thing:

  • You express interest in the position
  • You highlight 2-3 significant accmplishments that are applicable to this role
  • You mention your overall experience in 2-3 sentences
  • You say a few words to sell yourself – how your experience and education are unique.

Getting the drift? Go look at some cover letter samples and tell me they don’t all look cookie-cutter. I know almost every university placement office recommends writing a nice cover letter and emphasizing your education, teamwork, academic record, etc. – but I’m here to tell you that as someone that has hired hundreds of people they won’t be seen by the hiring manager.

We don’t have time. We need HR to screen resumes for relevant experience or education, meeting minimal job requirements, and then they pass these over to me to see if I concur. I can tell within 30 seconds if someone may be a fit, then I hit reply and email back a request to do a phone interview.

What exactly does anyone thing a cover letter is going to show me that would effect my decision to move someone to a phone interview or reject them? Nothing. The resume is what gives me what I need.

Online Job Submissions with Cover Letters with Your Resume

I would estimate more than 80% and maybe even closer to 100% of jobs you will apply for will be done online through a job search board or directly on a company web site. Most systems have the ability to accept a cover letter upload – I’ve never used it. Why? Because again it gets loaded into the system with your resume, your resume is scanned and dissected to break out keywords and experiences, and the letter file simply gets stored along with the scanned version of your resume. I personally have never met a hiring manager I’ve worked with that has read them. Best case is someone in HR may read it before proceeding – but this isn’t super useful. After all, the hiring manager will only be looking at your resume anyway regardless of HR provides them. Trust me. We don’t have time to do otherwise.

You should include a nice email if there is an option to do this, or even an “electronic version” of a cover letter versus a full word document. However, it is a formality – so keep it to the following format:

  • Express interest in the position
  • Indicate willingness to relocate if applicable
  • Mention 1-2 key facts of research you’ve done on the company or position and why you are the perfect fit based on that

That’s it – no more. Do not agonize over writing some formal letter, what template or format you should use, whether it is a good cover letter or bad – in short do NOT put any emphasis or weight on it. Keep it simple if you must do one, and check the box that you’ve done it.

Your time is much better spent ensuring you have an excellent resume, and that you have tailored it for the job you are applying for.

Cover letters to me are like spam – they all look the same, there isn’t any relevant information in them I need, and I never want to see them. Show me the resume and let me digest quickly whether I want HR to call you and start vetting you as a job candidate for my group.

Love my perspective or hate it. Call me a non-traditionalist. But I am a realist. Cover letters are a blast from the past when an open position would get a handful of submissions by regular mail written on a typewriter – long before the advent of computers and online job searches and submissions.

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