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Cover Letter Controversy

Cover letters are tough. You’ve just spent what felt like an eternity creating a targeted resume (after making a master resume, and probably also a LinkedIn profile). You’re tired. You feel like you’ve already said everything an employer might want to know. And now, when you’re tapped out, you have to write a cover letter too? What is there left to say?

This begs the question: Are cover letters even necessary? The honest answer is sometimes. Some employers use them and others don’t. About 53 percent of employers indicated they want a cover letter in a recent survey.

When employers do use cover letters, they are very important. Around 10 percent of employers indicated having no cover letter is a deal-breaker; for those employers, it prevents job seekers like you from getting interviews or job offers.

Often, an employer will specify whether a cover letter is required in the job announcement. If they do, then you better believe it’s a deal breaker for them. Don’t waste anyone’s time—including your own—just giving these employers a resume alone. If an employer doesn’t specify one way or the other, then it’s probably still a good idea for you to provide a cover letter with your resume, provided your cover letter is compelling.

Your cover letter is a marketing document that introduces you to the reader. In practical terms, it is a customized business letter that accompanies your resume when you apply for a position with an organization.

How do employers use cover letters?

Your cover letter shows the potential employer how your experience meets the job requirements, how your skills meet the job requirements, and why you want to work at the organization. It also shows off your writing skills and personality.

A cover letter gives you the opportunity to stand out from other applicants (often around 50, and sometimes more than 200, applications for a single job) and gets the reader to want to take a look at your resume. Employers use cover letters to weed people out or to select which resumes they will review.

What do employers have to say about them?

Don’t take our word for it. We went looking and found these real quotes from real hiring managers:

Mary Beth says, “It is easy to make a few clicks, attach a resume, and submit an application very quickly when the applicant may not be truly interested or qualified. The extra step of writing an attaching a cover letter may eliminate some frivolous online applications.”

Colm opines, “I review cover letters as an applicant’s insight, interpretation and concise reflection of what the applicant believes the hiring manager needs. Get it right and you have a shot, get it wrong and you can exclude yourself.”

Rose shares, “I do read cover letters, but I often find that they don’t typically add anything on top of the resume/transcript. As such, I kind of discount them—unless it shows particularly good or particularly poor writing skills, or really expresses enthusiasm for the position/firm. I would recommend using the cover letter to either add important or engaging details that are NOT captured in the resume or relating to resume points (e.g., a particular work experience to skills or take-aways.) Otherwise, it’s just a waste of time (theirs in writing the letter, and mine in having to read it). In general, I’d say if the company doesn’t ask for one, don’t write one.”

Tracy says, “…with so many job seekers spamming our postings without even reading the job description, those who DO attach a cover letter (which is written well and relevant) WILL get extra attention than those who do not. It shows that the seeker is ACTIVE and actually attempting to match skills with what we are seeking.”

Steve shares, “I would not look at a resume without a cover letter. The typical two page resume is sound bites and bullets, and may have been written by a professional resume writer. I look for the candidate who has read and understands the key job requirements and can speak to this in a meaningful manner in their cover letter. Most candidates have so much experience that is not covered in their “sound bites” resume. Why miss the opportunity to sell yourself in a manner that your resume cannot?

Mark states, “In almost 20 years of recruiting, I have never read a cover letter that changed my point of view on the candidate’s resume. The resume is still the go-to document, and that is where the candidates need to demonstrate innovation and delivery in their work.”

Ultimately, when employers want cover letters, they are very important, so don’t phone it in.

Searching for more in-depth assistance with cover letters? Contact your installation’s Family Member Employment Assistance or Transition Readiness staff and ask the Marine for Life Network on LinkedIn. For more job search tips, follow Marine for Life on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn!

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