I’m often asked how important a cover letter is when submitting a resume for a position, or if one is even necessary at all. My answer is: “It depends.”

Who is receiving your resume? If it’s being sent to a recruiter, or you are applying to an online system, you can be virtually guaranteed that a cover letter would not be even looked at, much less read. The volume of resumes that go through a normal recruiting process makes it all but impossible for cover letters to be considered in addition to resumes.

A recruiter focuses on the resumes looking for prior work experience that matches the job requirement as closely as possible and quickly discarding those that don’t show the obvious fit. When there are dozens, or hundreds of applicants as there often are in today’s job market, there are simply not enough hours in the day to pore over every resume and cover letter thoroughly.

If you are submitting a resume to a recruiter or through an online system, don’t bother taking the time to write a cover letter. It won’t get read.

A hiring manager, however, may be another story. In most companies, the hiring managers don’t usually get many resumes to sort through themselves. The corporate recruiter or HR representative usually has the responsibility to screen the majority of applicants and present a select few for the hiring manager to consider. Also, since the hiring manager naturally has the greatest interest in knowing more about the applicants they are somewhat more likely to read a cover letter if one is available. However, the resume is still the primary document that helps them to decide to move forward or not.

As a candidate, your chances of getting an interview rise dramatically if you can present your information directly to a hiring manager. If you do, be sure to include a cover letter along with your resume for them to gain a better understanding of how you can be of value to them in the role.

Whether you submit information to a recruiter or to a hiring manager, a clear and effective resume is critical.

There are several other resources available on this site and elsewhere online with tips for writing an effective resume and cover letter. The focus here is strictly whether to actually send a cover letter or not.

Are there any negative consequences to submitting a cover letter to a recruiter? No. However, as you seek the most effective ways to spend your time in a job search, you are much better off networking or finding information through online resources to gain access directly to a hiring manager rather than take time writing to an online system.

Manage your time effectively and seek the best contacts at every company you target.

Views: 106

Comment by Hassan Rizwan on November 5, 2009 at 3:24am
Hmm Insightful. Somehow we followed these rules but we were not consciously aware of them. So to put it as a guideline would certainly help young lads land jobs in less number of attempts. As per my experience, even the hiring managers do not actually go through a cover letter. They expect the candidates to write one, just to see the interest level of the candidate, but they hardly pay any attention reading it. As you mentioned, there is never an issue writing one, but yes, its important to know who gives it importance and who doesn't. Good job Harry.
Comment by Charles Van Heerden on November 5, 2009 at 6:59pm
Hi Harry, very pertinent post.

To your point, if recruiters are not looking at cover letters, would it not be a GREAT IDEA to save candidates the work and effort to construct a great cover letter, only for it to ignored. I am not disagreeing with your conclusion regarding on-line systems.

I often coach senior candidates to first talk to a recruiters, followed by a personal email incorporating key connection points, which would help to make them a stand-out candidate (race horse).

In the end, I guess it is better to be safe and include both a cover letter and a CV until candidates get better direction from recruiters.



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