Job Search Mac ‘n Cheese

Nov 12 2010 in Cover Letters, Featured, reCareered Blog by Phil Rosenberg

job search information, job search advice, job search help, job search tips, career advice

So much of today’s job search advice is like Mac & Cheese. It’s comfort food. It’s not very good for you, but it’s comfortable…it makes you feel good.

Like Mac & Cheese, this advice is very popular – you see it everywhere. Just as Mac & Cheese isn’t an efficient food source, this advice won’t make your job search efficient. But it WILL make you feel good, like you’re doing the right thing, because you see this advice everywhere.

So how can you tell what advice is Mac & Cheese? One example of job search comfort food is cover letters. Think of how many articles you see, and how much advice a candidate receives about how to write a perfect cover letter. It’s comfortable advice that we’ve heard since we were originally taught to type them … on typewriters. It’s advice that might have worked in job markets with more jobs than candidates, where employers had fewer choices – but not today.

At best, cover letters are an obsolete tradition. But cover letters can work against a candidate, providing a much greater disadvantage over any potential advantage.

Here’s why cover letters are like Mac & Cheese:

  1. Hiring Managers usually don’t get cover letters. I talk to many executives each month and have surveyed thousands. Each one tells me how they hire candidates. About 66% of the time, hiring managers tell me they don’t even get cover letters from HR departments or recruiters. Recruiters and HR departments often don’t see cover letters, even when requested within placed job ads.
  2. Hiring Managers, recruiters & HR Reps make decisions on resumes, not cover letters. Based on surveys I published last year of thousands of hiring managers, recruiters and HR reps – only 3% decide to interview or hire a candidate based on a cover letter. Less than 10% read cover letters. Yet, 96% of candidates use this ignored document as a means to differentiate themselves.
  3. Hiring Managers typically only see about a dozen resumes per position, out of thousands of applicants. HR departments and recruiters use databases to pre-screen resumes. These systems, called Applicant Tracking Systems, search resumes by keywords, allowing the HR screener or recruiter to pick the resumes that best match the keywords being searched. Sound familiar? This process is just like we do every day on Google. Based on interviews with Applicant Tracking Systems vendors and HR managers, most ATS systems aren’t set up to keyword search cover letters – just resumes.
  4. It’s a published statistic that most hiring managers make an interview/non interview decision in an average 15 seconds. In 15 seconds you can’t read both a resume and cover letter. Which do you think most hiring managers read first? According to my survey results, less than 10% read the cover letter at all, and less than 4% read the cover letter first.
  5. As part of my survey, I asked candidates if they send a cover letter or include a customized resume. Over 92% send a cover letter (most customize it), and 4% just send a static resume with no cover. Just 4% send a customized resume.

    Isn’t that gap eye opening? 92% of candidates put all of their customization into a document that’s rarely seen.

  6. Over 90% of candidates sent the same static resume to the jobs they apply to, hoping that the words in their resume happen to magically match the words being searched for. Most send a customized cover letter (See above – cover letters aren’t searched by applicant tracking systems and read less than 10% of the time). The odds of this strategy working are lousy in today’s job market of candidate oversupply.
  7. I hear daily anecdotal evidence from hiring managers about the impact of cover letters if they get them and if they read them. I’ve rarely heard of an instance that a cover letter will talk a hiring manager into an interview, if the resume doesn’t first clearly demonstrate they meet the key hiring criteria. On the other hand, I hear stories all the time from hiring managers who recall cover letters that gave additional information that caused the hiring manager to deny an interview – the candidate revealed information that was inconsistent with the hiring manager’s needs or made mistakes on the cover letter.

As digital resumes exploded the competition that candidates face, and flooded HR departments/recruiters, these groups developed process improvements that reward candidates who heavily customize their resumes … and penalize candidates who don’t or who customize a different document.

Keep in mind that for every rule, there are exceptions. For instance, if you’re looking for a job as a writer, editor or publisher, your employer will probably read the cover letter as a sample of your writing style. For the majority of positions, however, a cover letter is Mac ‘n Cheese.

Additional job search Mac & Cheese examples are generalist resumes, broad opening summaries, lack of clarity of what a candidate is looking for and unclear rationale why they’re the best choice.

So what are you buying in your job search? Mac & Cheese? Or Smart Food?


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Author: Phil Rosenberg

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