R.I.P. The Cover Letter? - 23rd March 2017

Do we actually need to write a cover letter anymore? Most job boards and websites allow you upload your CV and don’t usually ask for a cover letter. In any case, if a recruiter or would-be employer wants to check you out further, then they can always read your LinkedIn profile. Right? Cover letters are a waste of time and slow you down. Stopping you from just firing off lots of applications to lots of different jobs. So, aren’t they overrated and, to be frank, a bit outdated?

Actually, no. Quite the opposite. We are all busy, pressed for time, and as much as we’d like to do away with these pesky cover letters, they are way more important and helpful to landing that great job than you may have thought.

So rather than the cover letter being dead, it’s probably never been so useful. How come?

Let’s look at some of the cunning ways that the cover letter can come to the job hunting rescue.

  1. By far and away, the best reason for writing one is that it shows the hirer, be it a recruiter or new boss, that you have taken time out to contemplate and reflect on how relevant you and your skills are to their vacancy. You’ll also be able to show your enthusiasm and interest by giving some specific examples of how well you match.
  2. The cover letter stops people judging you on just your CV. The letter can explain why you’re making a career change and what transferrable skills you have.
  3. Mind the gap! If you’ve been travelling, or had time out to recover from an operation or a bereavement, or even some parental leave and it has led to a noticeable gap or two on the timeline of your career history on your CV, then you can explain it all in the cover letter. This leaves no room for ambiguity and will help answer questions straight away. Make no mistake, unexplained gaps on CV always raise eyebrows.
  4. If you’re living overseas or just at a distance further than is commutable for a new role, give your reasons why you’re looking at a job so far from home. No doubt you’ll be relocating. If you have somewhere nearer to live if you are offered the job then say so. You might stay with family or friends or have a rental property lined up. Otherwise, recruiters might think you’ve made a mistake, and applied without knowing where the vacancy is. It happens.
  5. The cover letter also allows you to sell yourself. It shows your ability to form a convincing written argument.…And yes, it shows you know how to spell and use good grammar. Don’t forget to spellcheck the letter or to show it to someone else to proof read before hitting ‘send’.
  6. Lastly, the cover letter allows you to stand out and to give yourself a voice. If most other candidates don’t bother to write one then you’ve already put yourself ahead of the rest.

Cover letters aren’t dead at all. That said, remember you’ll need to stick to some rules. A badly written letter, or – worse – an obvious ‘copy and paste’ letter, may actually be worse than none at all. So, remember, keep the letter relevant. Keep it fairly short – this is not the time for an epic multi-page life story. Use the name of the company or hiring manager, if you know them. Try and convey your genuine interest and as mentioned before – spell check it!

The strange thing is, by forcing yourself to sit down and write a tailored cover letter that is specific to one particular job, you will force yourself to think. You will have to think about how well you match the job and the company… as well as your own career plans. Sometimes, when you do this, you may well end up deciding that actually, you’re not really that interested or well suited after all. A moment of clarity. You will have saved your time (and the hirer’s) being interviewed for a job you don’t really want. The opposite it also true. Writing a tailored cover letter can also fire you up and make you realise how much you really, really want that job! The result should be a clearer idea of what you do genuinely want to do next.