The cover letter has been an integral part of the job search for eons. In fact, Leonardo Da Vinci pioneered the concept with his letter to the Duke of Milan. But today, more and more job seekers are finding that it is not a critical component of a successful search any longer.
Why Hiring Managers No Longer Read Cover Letters
Ideally, the cover letter provides an opportunity to personally introduce yourself to the hiring manager and highlight the relevant aspects of your resume as they pertain to the job description.
Unfortunately, in the digital age, fewer and fewer hiring managers are actually looking at them.
The first obstacle to getting your cover letter read? It may not even land on the desk of the person assigned to review resumes, due to quirks in the automated resume screening programs and Applicant Tracking Systems employed by many larger organizations.
But even at smaller firms, hiring managers may be likely to choose to ignore your cover letter.
The reality of today’s job market is that it is almost entirely skills-based. Recruiters and hiring managers scan your resume quickly, targeting relevant skills and experience that qualify you for the open position. This is especially the case if you are applying for a position in a field that is not heavy on written communication skills.
What Does This Mean For Resumes?
Recruiters look for hard skills and tangible accomplishments, not your life story or the reasons this position is your dream job–which many applicants foolishly include in their cover letters.
On the other hand, resumes are efficient applicant profiles.
That means that if you say it on your cover letter, it should be on your resume, too–otherwise it may not get seen. Any accomplishments or achievements that you want to draw attention to need to be listed prominently on your resume. A great resume is stacked with the applicant’s skills and buzzwords, individually tailored to the position available.
Successful and Modern Alternatives to the Traditional Cover Letter
A recent article at Fortune debates the value of the cover letter in today’s job market. One chief operating officer suggests that a cover letter for our time is vastly different from the cover letters that sufficed twenty years ago:
[David] Liu argues that a resume with a referral or approaching employers through another context would work better than any cover letter. “Just sending in a blind cover letter is absolutely dated,” he says. “You need to figure out a way to identify with the folks that are in those companies. There are meetups. There are ways to find out who’s working there, for how long, and what they do.”
That paragraph is the most important takeaway from the Fortune article.
No one can apply for a job using a cookie-cutter process any longer. You absolutely must distinguish yourself from the crowd in some way. A traditional cover letter simply doesn’t do that. Instead, today’s cover letter actually negates its original purpose, which was to introduce you and distinguish you.
The rules have changed. This is where you can get creative. Attend networking events that put you in contact with employees of your target company or target field. Hone in on alumni, acquaintances, or friends of family that work at your target company. Get an introduction from them. Engage with the company on a social media platform. Demonstrate your skill set via social media by guest posting on relevant blogs or starting your own. Do something different and intriguing.
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