I’ve heard debate recently about cover letters – are they important, do you need to write one, etc.
Cover letters are kind of hard to write. Maybe they are more of a pain, really, than they are hard to write. And anything that is a pain to job seekers is questioned… “waa, waa, do we really need to spend more than 3 minutes on this thing? Waa…”
It seems that if we have to take more than a few clicks to do something in our job search, it’s a waste of our time.
Not true with cover letters.
Let me share an experience I had this morning. It was with a LinkedIn introduction, not a cover letter, but the concept is similar.
I got a LinkedIn introduction request from someone who I didn’t recognize. Turns out, I have a reason to recognize the name, but it had slipped my mind when I saw the introduction request. The person was asking for an introduction to a really big name at a big organization.
I sent it on to my contact, who would forward it to his contact. I wasn’t able to write a very strong “you must forward this on, this is a great person who isn’t going to waste your contact’s time.” But I forwarded it on anyway.
My contact immediately wrote me back and said “I need more information before I forward this on to my contact, who I have to be careful with. ” In other words, people are cautious about what they forward on… if there is something that might affect your brand, or your relationship with your contact, would you send it on for a stranger?
The original introduction was vague. Here are two things that would have added a lot to the request, and put the request in context:
- “Hey Jason, remember me? I am the person who ___________….” Even if you think you are close to the person you are communicating with, it’s always helpful to remind them of who you are and why you have a relationship (where you met, etc.). It never hurts to add this information, which can help remind me of why we are talking.
- “I’d like to talk to Ms. XYZ because _________ and __________.” The reality is, I’m not in a position to be the gatekeeper. And if I pass on something without substance to Ms. XYZ, do you think she is going to trust what I give her next time? In this case, there was someone between me and Ms. XYZ, and as another gatekeeper, he wasn’t going to pass anything on unless there was a real reason. I can’t tell you how many times people want to get on the phone just to chat and pick my brain. My contact wasn’t going to allow an introduction to get to Ms. XYZ just for a brain picking… or else he would risk his relationship with Ms. XYZ.
This is the exact same thing I’ve heard from people who get resumes. If you send a resume in without some kind of context, and something to set you apart, or explain something that you can’t really explain within the boundaries of a resume, you end up in the pile with a thousand other undifferentiated resumes.
But when you use a cover letter to explain a little more about you, or why you are so perfect for this job, or to add context to your application, you are filling in the blanks for the recipient.
Will it be read every time, by everyone who touches your resume? Not necessarily. But it could mean the difference between which pile you go into (the No pile, the Maybe pile, or the Short List pile).
Take the extra time to prepare a customized cover letter, and don’t risk it.