Monday, January 30, 2012

Dear job seekers: Quit it with the lame cover letters!

I'm one of the lucky ones.  I have a career in which I get to wear a lot of hats.  As a Recruiter who is also a job search coach, I find myself getting a ton of cover letters with resumes.  Most of these are unsolicited.  Job seekers who either want me to take them on as a recruiter typically.  I've received several unsolicited resumes in the last few days that were so egregiously bad, I had to share.  This one takes the cake.  It's from someone I do not know or know of.  I can only assume that she got my email address from a new connection I made on LinkedIn.  When she sent it, she sent it to a group of us at once.  While she was considerate enough to include us all as BCC, it was quite obvious that this was a shotgun approach:

Dear Mr/Ms,

Please consider the attached resume for your kind consideration. 

I appreciate your time and I hope to hear from you soon.

Kind regards,

As a recruiter, I have to be honest in saying that I think cover letters are worthless.  I rarely read the cover letter with interest unless it's particularly bad (as in this one) or if I absolutely cannot figure out why I'm getting the resume (as in this one).  However, as a job search coach, I do recommend to my seekers that they include a cover letter but let me be clear in saying that you are doing yourself a significant disservice if you are guilty of sending such a generic letter.  I mean come on...she couldn't even take the time to send it to me directly nor could she actually be bothered to make a guess on my gender and address it appropriately.  I mean no disrespect to this person.  Let's just assume that it's lack of knowledge on proper communication procedures in job search.  But for the rest of you, let's keep you from having that same lack of knowledge so you don't end up in the "not gonna call" pile.

Ok, so you get it-I'm fired up about the idea of such poor communication examples.  So, how do you fix your own approach?  Well, it's not rocket science.  A good cover letter doesn't have to be long, perfect or beautifully written.  It does need to be clear, concise, accurate and tailored to the specific role at the specific company.  Follow a simple template to make sure that you hit on all key points:

1) Clearly state the reason for your call/email/smoke signal in the first few sentences.  If there is a specific job you want to be considered for, reference it.  If you are sending a resume in the event they have a position that you don't know about, then reference that.

2) Give 3-5 (don't go crazy now) reasons why your experience is a good match for the role and/or company.  Bullet points are ok.  As humans we often have short attention spans so bear that in mind. 

3) Include a call to action.  "You are welcome to reach me at 976-1234.  However, I will also plan on following up with you on Tuesday 2/12 at 3:00 CST."  While some may argue that in this employment market employers are being flooded with overly aggressive job seekers, you do want to make it clear (appropriately so) that you are interested and serious.  Just like in dating, you want to make your intentions clear...and make sure that the employer knows that you are interested for a reason.

So, that's it.  When you are done, your letter will probably take up about half a page-maybe more, but if you go to two pages, it's too much. 

Bottom line is simple.  As humans, we all want to know that we are special.  Employers are no different.  A cover letter is your opening volley to ensure that an employer knows that you are a strategic player.  That may seem overly simplistic but the reality is that much of your competition is showing the employers that they target the love...if you don't, I fear that your search will go on far longer than you desire.  Good luck and happy hunting.