23 Mar 16 Career Advice
The Cover Letter has long been a controversial topic among recruiters. Does it hold any value? Is it even going to get read? It's definitely something worth exploring, and I am genuinely interested to find out what other people think.
A cover letter has become a seemingly mandatory addition to any job application, ranging from automatically generated notes from job boards, to vast, essay-like suitability statements – and from my experience I’m unsure as to whether people are just doing them for the sake of it, or if they can serve a purpose.
I think it’s worth highlighting at this point, that there is no straight answer. Different types of applications call for different types of processes. For arguments sake, I will be analysing the subject from a recruitment agency perspective, to identify if cover letters can add value for both agencies and candidates alike…or not as the case may be.
A well-written cover letter can be an excellent insight in to a candidate’s personality. It can establish the kind of company culture they would fit in to. It can set a candidate apart from the competition, in a less formal way than the fact-based CV, also allowing them to demonstrate an understanding of the vacancy. This part of the process is a fantastic way to show soft skills that can’t be determined from a CV alone.
It can help to do a recruiter’s job for them, eloquently describing key achievements and successes, over and above what can be read on a CV, which can in turn be shared with clients. Candidates can tell their story to engage the recruiter, and to perhaps clarify skills gaps, explain certain circumstances or highlight specific areas.
Equally if the application process explicitly instructs the inclusion of a cover letter, then go right ahead and write one.
A CV is often considered to be a shop front to demonstrate what a you've got to offer, raising the question of what role the cover letter plays in all of this. Should a candidate be able to get their experience, unique selling points and abilities across in a single document? A neatly tailored CV may often be the best way to stand out from the crowd and grab a recruiter’s attention – sticking to Volumes & Values to define key achievements in an objective way.
A lot of recruiters I’ve spoken to have admitted to disregarding the cover letter entirely, citing it as a waste of time and/or "a load of waffle". Reading a cover letter for every application received would be incredibly time consuming, and can get pretty tedious after a while.
Recruitment software will often strip the cover letter from an application, purely extracting what it deems to be useful information for the Recruiter to review. This will render the whole thing useless, as it will be lost in the ether and never read. In my experience, CV stripping is a completely flawed design anyway but that's another rant for another time.
My Two Cents
In my opinion, as the market stands at the moment, there isn’t much need for a cover letter provided that the CV is put together properly. I feel that a strong online presence – whether that be LinkedIn, GitHub or whatever platform your industry dictates – is far more valuable, and honest, than a traditional cover letter.
However, as I said above, I’m keen to see what other people think…Have you had an amazing success stemming from a well-written cover letter? Any application horror stories? Let us know and share your thoughts!
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