Covering letters – are they redundant?

A number of respected career coaches are adamant that cover letters are not necessary in the modern recruitment world. Notably, career coach Phil Rosenberg, President of US-based consultancy ReCareered, carried out extensive research with hiring managers and directors, almost all of whom say they don’t read – and often don’t receive – cover letters. So, are they a good or a bad idea?

Phil goes so far as to suggest that adding a cover letter can detract from your application, rather than enhancing it.

By contrast, I would no more suggest to a client that they send a bare CV with no cover letter than I would suggest they attend interview without wearing a tie (or equivalent for ladies). Why are our views so different?

A waste of effort?

Phil’s argument hinges on the fact that cover letters are simply not read. He’s right on that: up to 80% of them are immediately disregarded. Most cover letters aren’t even scanned into HR or recruitment databases, so they’re not even useful for key-word search.

But what if content is not the reason recruiters like to receive cover letters? As a long-time hirer-turned coach, I believe that a cover letter serves an entirely different purpose.

A cover letter is an indication of good manners – something sadly missing from many applicants’ kit-bags these days. I like to see that someone has bothered to find out who they are communicating with and send them a cover letter. It’s an indication of respect. It’s a politeness, not simply an adjunct to a CV (resume). It says: please let me introduce myself, and thank you for considering me.

I would actually think less of a candidate who did not extend this basic courtesy, even if I had no intention of reading the letter, scanning it into a system or otherwise passing it on. I think sending a CV on its own (unless this is what you’ve been directly asked to do) can seem presumptuous, if not rude. For this reason, especially in direct-application scenarios, I’d always advise a client to add a covering letter.

Focus your effort

However, Phil is right on one thing. A recruiter will spend about 15 seconds considering an application before deciding whether to shortlist for interview. If you put all your effort into crafting and tailoring a cover letter, it’s likely to be wasted effort.

Instead, put your energy and thought into tailoring the front page of your CV so that it has immediate and relevant impact.

January 13th, 2010 | Category: application, CV, employer, job hunting, stand out | 1 Comment »

One comment


    I agree with you (if you are taking the pro-covering letter stance).

    How on Earth is one going to appeal to the Human Being opening the letter and CV?

    Anything less implies laziness, complacency and disrespect.

    Yours sincerely, BFHM

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