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Covering cover letters

Covering cover letters

By Matt Lowney

How much work should you put into your cover letter? Should you even include one at all?  In most instances the answer to both questions is yes. However, that answer depends greatly on who actually gets your resume.

Larger companies have recruiters who receive your resume first. The recruiter’s main job is to find the most qualified candidates for the positions they are seeking to fill. They probably won’t read your cover letter unless they need some additional information about you. For instance, if you are applying for a job in New York City, but live in Memphis, TN, a recruiter will look at your cover letter to make sure you are actually interested in relocating. In addition, a recruiter will also scan your cover letter if your background does not seem to fit the position.

Your cover letter is a great opportunity to explain how a new degree or other skill makes you a great candidate for the position.  A recruiter makes her judgment of you based on a 15 to 30 second visual scan of your resume, so spending a lot of time and energy on your cover letter might not be the best use of time. However, if your resume and cover letter are going directly to the hiring manager, there is a much higher likelihood it will be read. If the corporate recruiter has forwarded your resume to the manager, you should bring a cover letter with your resume to the interview.

So, what should you include in your cover letter? And, how can a great cover letter help you get a job? First, it needs to be full of relevant information and be brief.  A well-written cover letter should have an introductory paragraph with no more than 3 or 4 sentences and include 3 to 5 bullet points. Make sure your cover letter also includes all possible means of contacting you. In addition, a professional cover letter, does not merely re-hash the same information in your resume. Make sure to include bullet points that really emphasize your accomplishments.

Managers really like to see numbers and metrics in this section of your cover letter. For example, a bullet point might say, “Implemented cost savings measure that resulted in a yearly savings for the company of $76,500.” As with your resume, you need to tailor your cover letter to the job you are applying for. Look at the job description posted on the employer’s career website and make sure your accomplishments speak to the position the company is looking to fill. Basically, don’t send the same cover letter to everyone.

In short, you should include a cover letter in almost all instances, but be aware that it’s not nearly as important as your resume. A cover letter’s main purpose is to provide additional information that a recruiter may need to know or to motivate a hiring manager to read your resume.

Matt Lowney is a Nashville, Tenn based recruiter, career consultant, and co-host of Career Talk, a weekly one hour career advice radio talk show that airs from 5 to 6 pm each Friday on WAKM 950.  For more information he can be reached at