One of the questions I receive most often from job seekers is whether or not to include a cover letter when they apply to a job. In general I think people feel very anxious about this topic. Not only whether or not to include one, but what to say if they do include one.

I’ve held a hard and fast rule about this throughout my career. Only include a cover letter if you’re being asked to include a cover letter.

When I was a recruiter if someone sent me an unrequested cover letter - I never read it. Ever. And if I did indeed want a cover letter, or knew my Hiring Manager wanted one, I gave very clear instructions to candidates on how to do that, what to include, etc. And now that I train recruiters, I know a majority of them feel exactly the same way.

Ultimately over the years I have felt like cover letters are a waste of time. Primarily due to the fact that candidates spend LOTS of time trying to perfect a cover letter that may never be read. Recruiters spend their timing looking at resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Those are you two best chances at capturing their attention.

That being said… you still need some sort of introductory language (similar to a cover letter) at your disposal when reaching out to people and introducing yourself. Networking and marketing & selling your skills is truly your best chance at landing the job you want.

And I think when candidates toil over cover letters, what they are really struggling with is… how do I best market and sell my skills so that someone gets back to me?!

And what is even harder is that there is so much conflicting information out there. If you google career experts and the topic ‘cover letters’... you’ll have several people say ‘don’t send them’ and several others say ‘always send them’... many will say ‘cater them for every job’ and others will say ‘have a generic one you can use for any job’... there is SO MUCH advice out there.

Which is why I have always said… do exactly what is asked of you. If you’re being introduced in by a referral and they ask you to fill out an application and send your resume…. Do that. If you’re being asked to email a contact or “friend of a friend” with some ‘info about yourself’ and your resume… Do that. If you’re being asked to apply online and send a cover letter… Do that. The people in charge of getting your information to the right people internally will ask of you exactly what they need.

And when it comes to how to best market and sell your skills… well that is a long answer that probably deserves it’s own post (or masterclass, really)! But in your introductory emails or other correspondences with people, keep it to one paragraph and focus on a few brief things:

  1. Have one sentence that summarizes your experience while positioning your strengths. Don't simply give your title, explain your expertise and value. (ex: I currently work in the tech industry as an IT Project Manager specializing in database implementations).
  2. Have an introductory sentence (or two) that says who you are, what you do and why you are reaching out. ("So and so asked me to email you regarding the abc role", or "I am reaching out because I saw your name on a xyz job post or career site").
  3. Focus on a specific call to action and ask for next steps. ("Do you have time to connect with me this week?" or "I’d love to chat this week, or I’m very interested in discussing this role further, please let me know a good time to connect.")

I wish there were hard and fast rules about all this job search stuff... there truly isn't. My biggest piece of advice would be- don't overthink it!! Many job seekers paralyze themselves by trying to do everything 'right'... which ultimately prevents them from doing anything at all. The truth is every recruiter and hiring manager has different preferences. Focus on what is being asked of you - you'd be amazed at how few people do that 😉

Always Be Learning,

About Rebecca Vertucci

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