Do cover letters really matter?

Today I listened to a webinar offered by US-based National Resume Writers Association. The topic was a recruiter study with 273 responses - including two Canadian sources - from recruiters and hiring managers.

One of the questions, of many (and I plan to address others in the near future), was on the cover letter's importance.

Guess what? As I've been telling clients throughout my 11 years in full-time service, some recruiters will read it, some won't, but you need a good one just in case your dream job's hiring manager does like to read cover letters.

The survey did find out a few interesting points, though. Apparently recruiters/HR hiring managers will read the cover letter IF a) it's targeting the specific job posting AND b) it's not fluff. LOL No definition of fluff was provided, but I'd hazard a guess that if you provide "a)" you're okay and are not being fluffy.

So how do you target the job posting? These ideas have been sourced from the two books as you see on this blog.

1. Customize each letter. I cannot stress this one enough. Match the requirements, echo the company's values, saturate with keywords (hard skills, soft skills and attributes, educational credentials, and employment details).

2. Speak to the decision maker. Every piece of writing, to be effective, must speak to an audience's "buying motivators." (Hint: in hiring, buying motivators are related to the bottom line or to reputation in not-for-profits.) If you don't demonstrate that in the past you've not cost your employers' money, but helped them earn or keep revenues, you're not "selling yourself" and not likely to outperform other interviewees. And yes, the cover letter is an ideal place to sell you as a candidate. Every step of recruitment is about you, as a job seeker, conducting a self-marketing project.

3. Deal with obstacles. I have done this successfully for clients, from those with disabilities to those who job hopped a bit too much. Either be up front and refer to an accommodation that has worked, or turn the perceived obstacle into a great advantage. Perception can be tweaked!

Of course, good grammar and a clear writing style are also necessary.

BTW, you'll find my sample letters in these books! Eleven are now in the Best Canadian Cover Letters series and I have three in the newly published Modernize Your Job Search Letters, a US publication.

TIP: Please check that your cover letter isn't saturated with "I" statements, a common trait of many cover letters. Replace a few with phrases such as "You can count on me to," "Past supervisors will vouch for my (work ethic, ability to ...)."


The Number One Issue with Cover Letters

I write tons of cover letters. Each client's basic package includes a cover letter, and oftentimes professional and executive level clients return for additional, highly customized versions.

And I see a lot of "before" version cover letters, those written by the client. There is one issue I see in these that would be easy to fix. It actually surprises me that the job hunters themselves don't see this as the overuse of the personal pronoun "I" pops out from the page immediately.

Yes, way too many references to "I." In a current client's cover letter I counted 16 sentences that began with "I."

You might be tempted to ascribe this to an overabundance of personal pride or even boasting, but I can vouch for this client and say that she is not at all puffed up with pride. She is quite a down-to-earth, normal sort.

I think that it's more a case of not knowing how to compose  or proofread effectively.

Here are a few ideas on how to clean up your cover letter's "I's."

  • Switch up the order of the sentence, moving the "I" within the sentence structure. (As a productive team member, I've been known to ...Delegation is integral to my methodology, and I further support successful outcomes with mentoring.)
  • Let one of your colleagues begin the sentence. (Recently a colleague mentioned something I've been told before: You are the most organized person I know."
  • Give credit to your team and let it take centre stage for a sentence or two. (My team, of whom I am quite proud, are reliable, consistent, and productive, for example, rising to the challenge of meeting a critical timeline with time to spare for not only one, but two run-throughs. We delivered what is now called "the smoothest lauch" in the company's history.)
  • Integrate the opinion of industry experts you follow. (In October's issue of The Economist, author --- cited statistics that back up my own methodology ...)

Those four ideas will help you remove several "I" sentences. As for my clients new cover letter? Not one sentence begins with "I."