You are hereHome ›
Cover letter myth busters
Oh cover letters — you’re such a mystery. I mean, what do you do, exactly? And who has the time to read you? There’s already a resumé, an email to which the resumé is attached … or wait, are you in the body of that email? Is that where you should be? Who really knows. Okay, we should know, so we asked our Research Robot to scout the Internet for you and find out what other experts say about the issue. And to find out what other issues come up when cover letters get mentioned. And most importantly, to give you a definitive “yes” or ”no” about their importance.
Attach it or paste it?
Paste your cover letter in the body of an email, says 7 Cover Letter Mistakes You Make When Applying via Email article. "Most hiring managers aren’t going to open the cover letter and read it. They’ll go straight to the resumé instead. ... Whoever received the email will be much more likely to read it if it’s already right there in front of their face.” A great explanation about why you should paste it in the body of an email is provided by the Savysugar site: some employers simply expect that the body of an email is the cover letter. If your email is only a short intro, some employers may think that this is all there is. Alternatively, say right off the bat in your email that the cover letter is attached, if you just can’t bring yourself to paste it in there (but why not?).
Please note, however, that there are some arguments against pasting your cover letter in the body of an email. In the advice column Cover Letter as a Separate Attachment? it’s advised to pay attention to the type of a company you’re applying to (and the kind of job, we presume). “[S]ome employers (especially more formal companies) will view this negatively. A company may not consider this a ‘real’ cover letter,” the article says. Because you might not actually know how “formal” (and what does that mean exactly, dear advice column?) the workplace is; if you’re not sure we’d suggest pasting your cover letter in the body of an email and attaching the cover letter as a separate document along with your resumé.
Cover letter headaches
First of all, do they get read at all, and, if yes, who exactly reads them? Rich Dematteo, a recruiter, says that he only reads cover letters under the following circumstances:
- When the cover letter is for a position requiring writing such as marketing, technical writing, etc.
- When the hiring manager specifically requests a cover letter
- When the candidate says something ridiculous or interesting [Allow me to interrupt for a second: go for interesting over ridiculous, okay?]
- When the cover letter is sent in the body of the email, NOT as an attachment
It’s interesting to note Dematteo’s assessment of who reads and who doesn’t read cover letters and how opinions about them vary across the field. HR people probably read them, Dematteo writes, but recruiters don’t, unless specifically asked to do that (or unless there’s something ridiculous in there, we presume?). There’s an interesting discussion in the comments thread of the article; LinkedIn also provides many interesting discussions on the topic, such as Has the Cover Letter Gone the Way of the Dinosaur? or Do HR People Actually Read the Cover Letters They Receive?.
Assuming that a cover letter is read, this may be the deciding document if you’re qualified for the job. After all, you’re competing with dozens if not hundreds of applicants — you probably want to stand out for good reasons, such as a fabulous cover letter. We discuss some of that fabulousness in our Bestselling Cover Letters article but let’s review a few common mistakes that people make when writing them. The Teach in Ontario site lists the following:
- Bad spelling and grammar – Kome on! You ve got to aks someon to reade this thing for you before you clikc sned
- Formatting and length – Don’t go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on … especially in 8 pt. font!
- Use the active voice over the passive voice – Whenever I read passive voice cover letters I always imagine some kind of mysterious entity that made things get developed, written, organized, and so on. But when I read someone saying “I developed,” “I wrote,” “I organized,” the mystery is solved immediately and I know that the cover letter pertains to the candidate applying for the job.
Finally: yes or no?
Yes. All the way yes. Sure, there’s some debate out there about their importance but as Pennell Locey, senior consultant for Keystone Associates, says in the Do You Really Need a Cover Letter? article, "In a cover letter, you can precisely match your qualifications to job requirements and/or to the company to a degree that is difficult on a resumé.” Additionally, a cover letter will help even if it doesn’t get read right away. In the same article, Tracy Cashman, partner and general manager of the information technology division of Winter, Wyman, "From a recruiting standpoint, I would likely look at a cover letter after reading someone's resumé.”
- 1 of 6
- next ›