Cover letter can fill gaps, show work history relevance


December 05, 2007|By HANAH CHO

My recent column about the importance of cover letters stirred a strong opinion from one reader. And another wanted to know what to write in a cover letter that is different from a resume.

It seems further clarification is required on this topic.

One reader who did not want to be identified argues that cover letters are obsolete.

"Now, in most cases because of the good state of the economy, trying to find someone to apply for an open position is almost next to impossible, more so when expecting a cover letter with a resume," wrote the reader, who says he has been a hiring manager for more than 15 years. "If you poll most companies, you'll find that it's acceptable to submit a resume without a cover letter. In fact, it's now the norm unless a cover letter is specifically asked for in the job advertisement."

To recap, the earlier column advised job seekers to assume cover letters are required even if job postings don't ask for one. I cited a survey that found that 12 percent of 2,546 hiring managers said they would automatically dismiss an application that was submitted without a cover letter. That's about one out of eight recruiters who would toss a cover letter-less application.

Todd Raphael, editor in chief of ERE Media Inc., which provides recruiters and human resources professionals with industry news and networking programs, acknowledges that many recruiters don't bother to read cover letters. And larger companies are less likely to receive them than smaller firms, he says.

Yet, Raphael says, job seekers still need to write them. Why?

"You do the cover letter because you have to," he says. "It's more like a necessary evil."

Raphael describes the cover letter as a double-edged sword because if you do it right, it could help a job seeker. But a typo could end your chances on the spot, Raphael says.

So, what is a job seeker to do? Write a cover letter when it is asked for in a job posting, no question.

If one is not specified, I would still write one because, if it is not read, you have nothing to lose. But what if the recruiter you're trying to impress expects one? Who's the loser now?

Gerald, a retired physician, wrote in to say he never had to write a cover letter for a job.

The purpose of a cover letter is to complement a resume, not duplicate it. For instance, more job seekers have gaps in their employment these days. It is hard to explain those holes in a resume. You could use a cover letter to provide an explanation, Raphael says.

You could also use a cover letter to connect the dots of your previous employment and show how your job experiences are relevant to the job you are seeking.

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