Why MOST Cover Letters SUCK! (Spoiler... It ain't the candidates who write them!)

Most have heard, Recruiters and Hiring Managers will read resumes in 6 to 10 seconds.

I read an article recently espousing the deep dive candidates MUST do while making it "personal" for their cover letters... must have been an English major who wrote the article.

Recruiters may not admit it, but most don't have time for written soliloquies in cover letters received with EVERY application. 

 I guess you can blame recruiters for that. Maybe it's the thousands of resumes they receive, or, the stake holders breathing down their necks because they are losing cash each day a position goes unfilled...

"...just one more 'While I was on my summer vacation I used your product' cover letter to go boss... I should get to actual resumes tonight during my daughters dance recital. Check back with me in a few days..."

You read a lot today about providing a positive candidate experience. Ideas abound, some good, some... 

Oooh oooh!!! "I know, lets insist (today its implied) EVERYONE who applies online through our ADVV (automated digital vacuum vortex) craft a personal, targeted, entertaining cover letter that nobody has time to read."

More on the 6 - 10 second resume read

So... the reality for most in the biz, 6 - 10 seconds gets a recruiter  to a "short-stack" from which a deep read of each and every resume in the short-stack distills to a "short-list" of candidates that MIGHT fit the role. 

For more on making it to the "short-list" read *The Narrative Resume is Dead!.

From the short-list, "serious" consideration and vetting begins.

What if we ONLY asked candidates chosen from the short-list to write a brief cover letter? In reality, if a cover letter is being read at all, the candidate probably made it to the short-list anyway so why not be upfront and honest about it.  

While we're at it, let's toss the generic "Cover Letter" title all together, and call it what it really should be called...  a "Business Case". 

Why Company A, should hire you Ms./r  candidate over other similarly qualified candidates? Be as creative as you like, but remember, it might be the most important "Business Case" you write this year.

Little room for mediocrity there.

For my buck, I rather just pick up the phone and talk with short-list members before even requesting a written "Business Case".  

Gives me a chance to confirm actual vs. perceived skills match, measure their true level of interest, share process (give clear instructions ("you are on the 'short-list'. Only an elite group were chosen for that list and after speaking with you today, you've confirmed my suspicion you deserve to be there."

"Your skills and experience match the position closely, however, others also on the list fared well (you are all equally qualified). 

We need xxx words or less on what makes you a better choice than the other elites on the list. Prefer receiving it back from you sooner rather than later. I'm here to help, so ping me (or call) with any questions... "   Make Your Case!

This "assignment" among other tangibles, helps gauge a candidates collaborative and team skills. My team and I are here to mentor them through the process (do they appropriately engage with us?). 

Is the candidate easy to work with, personable, can they follow instruction (ego's left at the door!)? 

What does the candidate know about our company, the role, the market, (fill in the blank)?

Do they embrace the assignment, or just phone it in?

It just seems more informative, productive, engaging and preparatory for the follow up interviews I (and others) will probably be conducting with the candidate if procession is agreed. 

It is also dare I say more rewarding than reading generic candidate "Cover Letter" minutia all day, then blaming candidates for ineptitude knowing the cards are stacked against them.

Lastly, it helps ensure a more personalized, positive experience for the candidates, recruiters, hiring managers and helps eliminate mediocrity from the entire process.

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Comment by Linda Ferrante on November 22, 2016 at 11:22am

I like cover letters.  It gives candidates an opportunity to showcase their EI in brief form.  I'm not looking for some in depth personal information either from the candidate or about me (the recruiter), but instead I'm looking at WHY they are interested/qualified/excited about the position.  SOMETHING should have peaked their interest and it should have been more than the fact that there's contact info included in the posting.  

Comment by Nick Lagos on November 22, 2016 at 4:00pm

Hi Linda, Thank you for your comments.  Do you like cover letters from every applicant or just those that qualify for the position you're filling?


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