I usually advise my clients that cover letters are always important.
Why? Because it’s your first introduction to the employer and should be strong enough to entice the reader to open your attached resume. If your resume doesn’t get opened, what’s the point?
Strong cover letters should be well-written, short (no more than two short paragraphs) – and not repeat what your resume says.
Recruiters vs Hiring Managers
I’ve learned from speaking to in-house recruiters at very large companies that they seldom pay too much attention to cover letters.
This is also true when you’re submitting your resume through employment websites like Monster or Indeed.
These recruiters or screeners focus on if the subject line matches the job opening. Then they quickly forward your resume to the appropriate hiring manager.
They may however, do a screening interview with you. Recruiters don’t typically know the details of every job opening.
But they do know the basics of what the department is looking for and they screen for keywords. If you pass that test, your resume – and you – move on.
Your cover letter in these cases is less important.
Recruiters themselves have told me this. They are the clearinghouse for a huge number of resumes which might cover skilled positions they have no direct knowledge of.
Working through recruiters, computer programs and employment websites is definitely more impersonal. But it’s a fact of life and you need to play by their rules to make sure you’re focusing on the right stuff.
The right stuff, I’ve been told, is to make sure your email’s subject line clearly states the job you are applying for. Also make sure your attached resume includes the keywords they are looking for. Find out what the keywords are for your profession by Googling something like “keywords for a sales person’s resume.”
There are also lots of articles written about good keywords in general.
When dealing with recruiters or computer websites, your “cover letter” rarely needs to be more than a couple of lines repeating the job title and (in my opinion) making sure you come across as professional and courteous – and spell the person’s name correctly. That is, if you have a person’s name.
In previous articles, I’ve I’ve focused on firms and organizations where you are writing to the hiring manager.
With this person, ideally you will mention the name of a connection in the first line of your cover letter and it will overall be a much more personal note.
With this type of cover letter, it’s very important that you take time to write a clear, concise letter that highlights the 1-2 skills you have that qualifies you as a candidate; mentions your attached resume “which includes more detail about my background”; and ends by saying how much you look forward to learning more about this position.
The primary purpose of a cover letter is to entice the reader to open your resume. The primary purpose of your resume is to get you a personal interview!