Most people have been taught paper-based resume strategies, that encourage writing a static resume and customizing with a cover letter. But this strategy doesn’t work well in today’s world of digital resumes and Applicant Tracking Systems.
That’s right, if you stop writing cover letters, you’ll get more interviews. Most people’s first response is … Huh?
I know it’s counter-intuitive, and goes against everything you were taught, but it’s true. I’ll prove it to you.
EMPLOYERS DON’T INCLUDE COVER LETTERS IN THEIR SEARCH
Employers strip cover letters, before adding resumes to their database. So when a company searches for key words, or does word matches to find the best resume, they have already digitally thrown out your cover letter.
Employers and recruiters realized just after 9/11 that they could find many micro-targeted resumes by loading resumes into their own HR database and key-word searching. By doing this, they could get 20-30 very close matches, and not have to read through the other thousand resumes who may or may not be qualified.
Employers set up systems to reward candidates who customize their resume to fit the exact words in the job description they post – And then required line managers to scan all resumes through HR databases, in order to accumulate EEOC statistics. In public companies and any company that seeks government contracts (including vendors and subcontractors of companies with government contracts), these procedures have become part of SOX and it’s audited, with massive penalties for those who cut corners.
Think about the number of companies that include:
- Public companies
- Regulated companies
- Governmental entities
- Companies that sell to governmental entities
- Subcontractors to companies that sell to governmental entities
- Vendors of companies that sell to governmental entities
- Companies required to be audited for their bank loans
While networking to find a job can help, it still doesn’t keep you out of the HR database, nor change the fact that cover letters aren’t an effective way to customize your resume. Employee referral bonus programs are common in all but the smallest of companies to “bribe” employees to send networked resumes to HR – in order to track the nearly 50% of all resumes that are received through an company’s own employees’ personal networks (see http://recareered.com/blog/2010/05/18/how-employee-referral-bonus-programs-can-work-for-you-or-against-you/).
If you’re applying to a really small company (less than 10 people), or the hiring manager is your next door neighbor, you might skate by.
Statistics, Exceptions And Special Situations
Statistics: Earlier this year, I published the results of polls and surveys of thousands of hiring managers, recruiters, and HR staff, detailing how they used cover letters and resumes in selecting candidates to interview. Details can be found in the original article at http://www.recareered.com/blog/2009/12/02/is-your-cover-letter-an-ineffective-and-obsolete-tradition/:
- 97% of hiring managers, recruiters, and HR staff decide who to interview based on the resume, not the cover letter
- 90% of hiring mangers, recruiters, and HR staff don’t review cover letters
- 66% of hiring managers, recruiters, and HR staff don’t even get cover letters
- Yet, over 90% of candidates put most of their key differentiating information, why they are perfect for the job, in a cover letter – and not in the resume
Seems crazy doesn’t it? Why would anyone waste time on a cover letter? There are a few reasons cover letters (or a micro version called a transmittal letter) may make sense – keep reading for examples.
What if a company leaves a space for a cover letter?
Often when applying for a job through a job board or a company’s web site, an employer may leave a space for a customized cover letter. This is typically a default that was set up for all positions by the company’s IT department when implementing the software. Just because a company asks for a cover letter, doesn’t mean they will use it. Most companies and recruiters search their database of resumes to find candidate matches, not their database of cover letters.
In this type of an application, candidates have much better odds of gaining an interview by customizing the resume, rather than the cover letter.
What if a company asks for a cover letter?
Often, companies may ask for a cover letter by default – this doesn’t mean that the company will actually use the cover letter to determine which candidates to interview. In this case, I recommend a transmittal email. A transmittal email is the shortest email that can satisfy requirements but still get the reader’s attention to your resume as quickly as possible. I provide my subscribers with a transmittal letter template that’s just 3 lines long, and it works because it shows the employer you’ve followed instructions, but it’s so short that it focuses your reader’s attention on your resume.
What if a cover letter is required by the employer?
Sometimes a cover letter is required by the employer. In that case, use a transmittal email (see above). You’ll satisfy requirements (showing you can follow instructions), but you’ll use your resume to sell yourself.
What if the company asks you to tell why you’re perfect for that job in the cover letter?
Resist making the cover letter into a novel. Instead, tell the employer why you’re perfect in the resume, by demonstrating how you’ve already solved the problems that department faces today. But make your cover letter basic. Use different language than the resume. Don’t just copy what you’ve already written. Put all the meat and customization in your resume. Your goal should be to get ther reader to concentrate on your resume as quickly as possible – that’s what will sell you and what gets searched.
What if a company only gives you the option of faxing your application?
A company asking candidates to fax applications should receive fewer applications (it’s more work for the candidate) and less likely to put applications in a database – they are probably reading manually. Read the full strategy for faxing job applications at http://www.recareered.com/blog/2010/01/12/when-cover-letters-can-help/.
Since companies digitally search for experience details within your resume, they expect your resume to show why you’re a perfect fit …
… Why are you wasting all that time on cover letters, when you could be customizing your resume?-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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