I recently sat in on a panel of staffing professionals representing such prestigious companies as Microsoft, Starbucks, and PacSun. One of the questions that came up in the audience was “Do you read cover letters?” All three representatives of these companies said they do not. But is this representative of most recruiters and hiring authorities? I decided to conduct my own informal survey and quickly realized that people’s reactions to cover letters are all over the board. So here are my conclusions:
- Half the people you send your cover letter to will probably read it and the other half will not. Since you can never be sure who your audience is, it is best to cover your bases and send a cover letter. [Editor’s note: Some studies suggest the number is higher than half, but it’s certainly true that not all recipients read cover letters.]
- A strong cover letter might distinguish you in a sea of mediocrity. Most people’s cover letters fail to convey a message of value to the employer. But a strong cover letter can help you customize your resume and grab the attention of a hiring authority.
- A resume is fairly formulaic; a cover letter is not. Cover letters can be used to communicate interest, passion, and enthusiasm regarding a job opening. They are often used to build the initial rapport between the job-seeker and the employer.
- Specific action-oriented cover letters work better than generic ones full of fluff. Showcase strong accomplishments that are relevant to your reader and use metrics whenever possible to validate your competencies. Stay away from tired cover-letter phrases such as team player, strong communicator, or detail oriented. Hiring authorities assume you have these competencies. Leverage accomplishment statements to prove your success across these competencies.