Some job listings will say “cover letter required,” while others don’t include any mention about it at all. When it comes to the latter, many applicants often wonder, Should I submit one in anyway?
It’s a competitive job market out there, and hiring managers and job recruiters today spend about six seconds reviewing each resume. According to Glassdoor, a job search and salary comparison website, approximately 250 resumes are submitted for each corporate job listing, and only five or so candidates will be called for an interview.
So when is it necessary to send a cover letter? Here’s the thing: Hiring managers love them — they get you noticed quickly, show you’ve gone the extra mile and demonstrate how much you really want the job.
A bad cover letter, however, can hinder your objectives.
Don’t submit a cover letter if...
1. You have no interest in personalizing the cover letter: Many applicants will Google “cover letter examples,” pick one in a rush and model their cover letter after it. By doing so, not only will it be evident that you submitted a cover letter designed for mass distribution, but you might have overlooked some mistakes, like addressing the letter to the wrong person, company or even listing the wrong position you’re applying for.
(Trust me, this is something hiring managers see all the time, and it’s absolutely cringing. It also takes away from their valuable time that could be spent reviewing your resume.)
2. You don’t have anything new to say: Hiring managers expect to read a compelling and impressive cover letter, not an exact replicate of your resume. (Think about how you felt when writing your personal statement for all those college applications; it was a big deal and you knew the admissions office were looking for someone who they’d feel proud to have representing their school).
It’s no different with cover letters. Do you have any unusual hobbies that led you to be interested in the field of work you’re applying for? Is there a backstory that explains why you admire the company? Whatever you write, just don’t elaborate on your job history and skills (that’s what the resume is for).
3. You only have ideas on how to improve the company
Save the problem-solving suggestions for the job interview (that is, if you’re luck enough to get one), when you’ll 100 percent be asked those similar questions (i.e., “what would you improve about [XYZ]?”). A cover letter can be used as an opportunity to demonstrate your job knowledge, but don’t use it as an outlet to tell your prospective employer what they are doing wrong and how to fix it.
No one likes hearing negative things about their business from a stranger, even if your feedback has merit. Curiosity, humility and tact will trump a “know-it-all” every time. Focus on the positive aspects and potential solutions for the business.
When to include a cover letter
Notwithstanding the above, the only time you should submit a cover letter is when you have valuable information to share that’s not conveyed in your resume.
I’ve hired many candidates based on something that stood out in their cover letter. Here are some examples:
1. A personal connection or referral: If you were personally introduced to a hiring manager (or someone high up in the company), always acknowledge that relationship in a cover letter. Who made the introduction? How you know them? Why did they think you are a good fit for the role? A personal referral goes a long way, so don’t miss out on capturing the advantage.
2. You have a history with the company or hiring team: If you have any link to the organization, it’s essential to connect the dots. Did you intern at the company? Did you cross paths when you worked for a supplier, a competitor or even a team member in a previous company? You never want to surprise the recruiter and have them hear about the connection from someone else; getting ahead of it will make you an exciting candidate and demonstrate that you’re a transparent and a proactive communicator.
3. It’s your dream job: If the position you’re applying for indeed is your dream job, write a personal and heartfelt cover letter. Take the opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve researched the company and workplace culture well. If you’re going through the trouble of writing a fantastic personalized cover letter, do everything in your power to email it directly to the hiring manager, so it doesn’t get lost alongside hundreds or even thousands of other applicants in the automated applicant tracking system.
Debby Carreau is an entrepreneur, author and founder of Inspired HR. She has been recognized as one of Canada’s Top 25 HR Professionals and is a regular contributor on multiple TV shows, Entrepreneur Magazine and many other print and online publications. She is a board member for YPO and Elevation Group as well as an Advisory Board member for FinDev Canada.