Sometimes Cover Letters Do Help – An exception to the rule

Jan 14 2011 in Cover Letters, Featured, reCareered Blog by Phil Rosenberg

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

Most of the time, Cover Letters can hurt your job search more than help it.

But there are some cases when a well crafted, very succinct cover letter is just what you need.

To my regular readers, this article may come as a shock. Those who follow my articles know that I’m very outspoken that Cover Letters Are An Obsolete Tradition. Yet, here I am … now telling you how cover letters can work for you … in some very specific circumstances.

I helped a friend with a job application the other day. This was for a staff job for a smaller office, in a health care practice. The ad, from Craigslist, gave a mailing address and fax number, and asked for cover letters and resumes to be mailed or faxed – and specifically asked that they not be emailed. The job was also advertised in a local weekly paper, also asking for resumes to be mailed or faxed.

Not every employer does business at internet speed. This employer used “old school” job application techniques to see who was willing to do a little extra work to get the job … to find out who really wanted it. In doing so, the employer also knew it would get fewer applicants, and would get applicants who couldn’t follow instructions, and who demonstrated poor communications skills. The manual process would allow the employer to quickly disqualify these candidates.

This is a situation where a cover letter is critical, because it is the best way to demonstrate two of the criteria the employer seeks: Ability to follow directions, and effective written communications skills.

But what kind of cover letter is best for this type of application? Should the cover letter spell out each criteria and list concrete examples of past accomplishments to demonstrate that the candidate had experience in each? Should it be just a single line, stating “please find my resume attached”?

In this circumstance, I chose something different – Short, succinct, and clear. We identified the top 5 criteria the company was seeking, and concentrated on just those. The ad clearly stated that the hiring manager sought someone who embraced learning new skills, provided great customer service, and could speak Spanish, as well as someone who could follow instructions and with strong English communications skills.

We crafted a 6 sentence cover letter.

  1. An introduction
  2. A sentence describing my friend’s current post graduate course work to learn new skills
  3. A sentence describing my friend’s sales and customer service business background
  4. A description that my friend’s college Spanish work, and trips to 10 different Spanish & Latin American countries gave her a grounding in conversational Spanish
  5. & 6. Conclusion, and statement of interest.

Will this strategy work for every job? No – most applications seek an online response today. As you can see from the research in “Is your Cover Letter an Ineffective and Obsolete Tradition?” at, cover letters in an online or emailed application are read less than 4% of the time, and are more likely to disqualify you from an interview than help you.

But there’s an exception to most rules, and I’ve included the above example as one of those exceptions.


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Author: Phil Rosenberg

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