Are cover letters necessary or a complete waste of time? – The Poll Results… (and “How to” guide)

A couple of weeks ago I was having a wee discussion / debate on Twitter with @garyfranklin and @petergold about the relevance of the good ol’ covering letter when it came to recruitment practices of today. Subsequent to this toing & froing I thought I’d create a poll on LinkedIn to see what others thought.  Too much time on my hands? Mmmmoi?

 

I was firmly in the, “they’re a complete waste of time and should be banished to the crypts of recruitment past” camp. Was I being too harsh? Ignorant even? Or was I one of many like-minded individuals. I was confident of the latter but what did others think?

 

Well, the lines are closed. The votes have been counted and verified and the winner of this year’s X Facto… Ahem, the results of the poll are laid bare below for all to see.

 

As you can see, 154 votes later, it was extremely tight. Opinion was divided almost 50/50:

 


But was it enough to make me change my rather staunch opinion? You know what? (*as he hangs his head in slight shame and shuffles the dirt beneath his feet*). As much as it pains me to admit it I think I’ve been slightly shifted in my view… But only slightly… Let’s not get carried away aye.

 

Approximately 40 -45 comments were made across the few sites I posted the poll.  I’ve consolidated the recurring themes and pertinent points below in a, “I’m not 100% convinced cover letters are entirely necessary but if you’re going to write one follow these essential tips” kinda way:

 

  1. According to a majority of the comments accompanying the poll, the “cover letter” in terms of the long winded prelude to an individual’s CV is a huge no-no. If you’re going to do one make it as concise and to the point as possible. Think of it more as a short’n’sweet “covering email.” Anything more than a paragraph or two and you’re probably waffling. (Thanks to Pam Cloughton and Sylvia Allen for that little nugget.)
  2. As many people commented – a generic, one size fits all approach is another massive faux pas to avoid at strictly all costs. If you’re going to include something as an addition to your CV make sure it’s specific and relevant to the role and company you’re applying for.
  3. In terms of making it specific, demonstrate you’ve researched the role and company you’re applying to and explain why you think you should be considered. As Doug Munro said in his comment – “Perhaps the most important component is the opportunity to show me that they have researched my company and the position; I am impressed when someone conveys an understanding of a position and demonstrates why they believe they are specifically qualified for it.”
  4. Be absolutely sure to only include information that isn’t already in / wouldn’t usually be in your CV. Sandra McCartt offered up this other great example – “My family and I have recently made the decision to relocate to [ENTER AREA] to be closer to our aging family thus my reason for looking in that area at this time. We have a contract on a home in the area currently and will be moving in three weeks. My salary range is in the £X to £Y range adjusted for cost of living in the area. Our two children are already enrolled at the local college and will be attending this fall / autumn.”
  5. Katie McNab (@RecruitGal on Twitter) & Sam Cooper raised another interesting point.  If you’re applying to a role through an ATS the chances are you applying to a larger company / corporate. This means there’s likely to be a high volume of candidates for the role you’re applying for, which could mean the person on the receiving end won’t have the time to read your covering information anyway.  However, if you’re forwarding your application directly to a person who’s influential in the recruitment process, as is more likely the case in SMEs, then the odds of covering information being read are increased.

 

For me I think Pam Stoker summed it up nicely – “If the poll results are any indication of a larger test group, a job seeker has a roughly 50/50 chance of having their cover letter / email read. Why take the chance? Now, I agree that it is wasted effort to send a generic or template message that might as well be read by a robot. So, all the more reason to use a thoughtful, creative, targeted cover message to show your unique writing style and personality, as well as your grammar and spelling skills!”

 

Taking Pam’s 50 / 50 comment, it could also be argued that if you do write a covering message there’s a 50% chance it isn’t going to be read so why bother? I guess this is one for the glass half full / half empty brigade??? – Sorry Pam, I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist. Honest ;-)

 

I’ll close by concluding this. Are cover letters a complete waste of time? Yes. Is a brief covering email / message useful. Perhaps. But only if done correctly and used in the right scenario. Taking everything into account, if someone sought my advice as to whether they should include a covering message in their application I wouldn’t vehemently respond in the negative (which is a shift from my original stance) but I’d probably echo Katie’s (@RecruitGal’s) advice - “If it’s worth highlighting, it should be in the CV. And the CV should be customised for each application to highlight the most relevant skills and experience.”


But hang on.  If we’re to believe the intensifying radio chatter out there at the moment, CVs are going to be dead soon aren’t they… Then what are we all going to do?!… Oh I give up.

 

Thanks so much to all who contributed with your votes and comments. I for one will sleep easy tonight considering this matter drawn to a satisfactory conclusion. *he says with a relieved wipe of his brow and an audible “thank [BEEEEP] for that!”*

 

Hungry for more?  Check me out at www.trecknowledgy.com - a blog about training and coaching through recruitment complexities, and please feel free to subscribe.  Follow on Twitter @TRecKnowledgy also.

Views: 491

Comment by Charlie Allenson on August 16, 2011 at 10:13am
I think what a cover letter allows the applicant to do is show a little bit of his/her personality which is rarely discernible from a resume. A short and sweet cover letter with a good hook could make a big difference in response.

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