Back in my days of working in Higher Education, I would often times tell my students that the value of a cover letter goes a long way of making that first crucial impression with a potential employer. My favorite quote (that I came up with myself) that I used to tell my upcoming graduates was "Presentation is the essential key to succeeding in life." I would explain that this thought expanded to a well written cover letter, a detailed resume and a well delivered face to face interview. All these factors, contributed to how an employer viewed you for their advertised position and ultimately defined you as a candidate as to why the employer needed to hire you! This was and probably still is good advice....until of recent. Let me explain.
I was a firm advocate of a well written cover letter. Let me emphasize the "was" part of that statement. In my most recent position as an HR Director, I cannot tell you how many cover letters I read, skimmed over, ignored, etc. The reason is simple. TIME. I honestly did not have the time or energy to read a cover letter appetizer. Though, I will say, I did notice when a candidate included a cover letter along with their resume and application. I mean, who doesn't like the occasional appetizer now and again? What I really found myself craving was the actual meat and potatoes of their individual accomplishments. I wanted to see their resume tell me their individual story of how they got to be where they are today. The Main Course Resume and TIME, was what mattered to me the most.
TIME. The time it took me to read their cover letter. Time it took them to write the cover letter. Time spent that both parties could have used on other resources. Let's be honest here, not only is it vested time in the employer, but it is time consuming for the active candidate to draft a company/position specific cover letter every. single.time. they want to apply to a position of interest. Then you add in the extra ingredients of an online application (and all the new ADA, PreOffer, VEVRAA , etc. requirements into the mix) and we are talking at least an hour application process per position.
Bottom line: Cover Letters are simply Appetizers. Resumes are the Meat and Potatoes. References are the Dessert (sometimes with a cherry on top ;-) ). While some HR professionals may want the "appetizers", personally for me I want the Main Course and the Dessert, too. I feel those two combinations of a Resume and References, truly are indicative of a candidate's skills, abilities and talents. So why then must we continue to indulge in the The Cover Letter Appetizer? Do we really put weight into cover letters? For me, on the reviewing end, I do not always need an appetizer. However, now that I am the one doing the applying and pursuing new positions, I must admit I do take the time to include my Cover Letter Appetizer. Though I only indulge in the appetizer if: 1. It is a requirement (you know... that annoying red asterisk that you see online when applying) or 2. I really, REALLY want to be called for an interview because my Main Course is Filet Mignon after all.
There is nothing more disappointing (when I invest one hour or longer in applying to a job online that includes a personalized cover letter, resume, references, application, and questionnaire) then to receive a generic "Thanks, but no Thanks" automated email response within 5 minutes of me pressing the "submit" button. UGH...and double UGH. However....this is the process and this IS to be expected. My advice? It is your individual decision on whether you want to invest in a full course meal....ummm....you know....the entire online application of personalizing the Cover Letter to an advertised position?! It certainly can't hurt to have one, just be sure it is a good appetizer that truly leads up to the main course of your Filet Resume. Don't forget to save room for some Dessert...employers do like their Dessert!
Great...now I am hungry....