Cover letters, when properly written, are very time consuming to prepare and need to be amended for every application to be perceived as unique. It can be quite transparent when a cover letter is scatter-gunned to a whole lot of employers as it comes across as generic and not tailored. As cover letters are lengthy documents, people sometimes wonder whether it is worth putting in the effort to write them. I have often been asked whether it is necessary to include a cover letter with an application or if people even still write them.
There are two distinct schools of thought on Cover Letters, some career specialists believe that cover letters are an absolute must while others think that the emphasis has decreased and there is less reliance on these intense documents.
When to write them
Some sectors are more inclined to ask for a cover letter. If they are requested, you absolutely need to provide one. Strategy Consulting firms and the Public Sector often include them in their recruitment process.
Cover letters provide a different perspective to resumes and LinkedIn profiles and if prepared properly, they do not restate information. Some recruiters do not read cover letters at all, but if you are going to send a cover letter, it needs to stand out. A reviewer may not read your cover letter, but what if another candidate provides a convincing cover letter and you haven’t? On the other hand, a bad cover letter can be very damaging and could possibly destroy your application. If you are going to send a cover letter, you need to ensure it is compelling and demonstrates that you have spent time and effort on your application.
What to include
A cover letter should not exceed one page. The person reading your cover letter needs to believe that you have written it solely for the role they are advertising. It is important to address why the company should hire you, why you want to work for the organisation and how you match the culture. Addressing the most important skills that the employer is seeking is the key. Pick three competencies from the advertisement or job description that match your background and provide specific examples of your experience to support each one, using the STAR (SITUATION TASK ACTION RESULT) method. This can be compelling and is much stronger evidence than simply listing your skills.
A cover letter is a powerful tool. As both an agency and internal recruiter, I have been influenced by cover letters through evidence of strong written communication skills and competencies with well supported examples. Sometimes evidence of a network within the organisation can be quite persuasive or prompts a discussion with the relevant contact. Cover letters also help bridge gaps in candidate resumes and highlight transferable skills.
Instead of writing a cover letter, you can include a short introductory note in the body of an email. Just 200 words is adequate including your value, the benefit of having you on board and a request for a follow up conversation.
Cover letters are definitely still alive and can be a demonstration of your network, communication skills or could convince employers in ways that a resume or LinkedIn profile cannot. Provided you stick to one page and communicate clearly with strong examples to support your competencies, the time and effort spent crafting your cover letter will be worthwhile.