The staff at Bankers Crossing recently had a great discussion over lunch asking the question: are cover letters dead? Or, are they still essential to the application process? Does anyone read them?
If you apply the old school methods, the rule of thumb is always to include a cover letter. Online opinion articles indicate they are much less critical than before, but no one recommends eliminating them. So, when should one include one with your application?
We posed the question to Jim Pruitt, co-founder of Bankers Crossing, who has 30+ years’ experience in recruiting. “Of the 10 million resumes I’ve viewed over the years, I’ve only referenced the cover letter about 2% of the time,” he said. “They are more of a formality. The resume,” he continued,” is the best tool to gauge if someone is a fit for a position.” Like most recruiters and HR professionals, he can tell within 10-15 seconds if someone is worth pursuing.
However, he doesn’t rule out cover letters entirely. Here is his advice on the matter.
Update Your Resume First
When crafting a cover letter, never include skills and experience that you haven’t updated on your resume. Many Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) rely on keyword searches to match candidate resumes to positions. If you’re not including those critical keywords, the employer will likely miss your resume. Likewise, if an HR professional is reviewing your resume, they won’t consider the cover letter if they don’t see the necessary skills and experience on the resume.
Keep It Simple
If you feel compelled to submit a cover letter as a formality, you should use a generic template to avoid spending time crafting one for each position to which you apply. Here’s our suggested sample, courtesy of Jim:
Enclosed for your discreet review is my resume in response to your position for <insert job title>.
I have a long list of accomplishments I believe you will find valuable in reaching your company’s goals.
I would welcome the opportunity to discuss further.
When a Cover Letter Is Important
A cover letter is most valuable when you want to communicate why you want to change industries or relocate.
For industry changes, you should highlight the transferable skills that can be adapted to the role in the new industry. However, don’t neglect to add the appropriate skills and keywords to your resume as well.
If you’re relocating, plainly and directly articulate the reason. Typically, it’s to be near family or because your significant other received an offer in that location.
In summary, here are three points steps to keep in mind when it comes to cover letters:
- Don’t spend much time agonizing over a cover letter. Instead, invest the time in updating your resume with keywords and skills for each specific application.
- If you’re uncomfortable applying without one, use a standard template.
- Use a cover letter to provide more details for unique circumstances, such as relocating or changing industries.