Monday, May 7, 2012

In Defense of Cover Letters

Please forgive my zillionth link to an article that I found on Jezebel (this one came from Deadspin actually). While I clearly like pop culture (don’t judge me) and good writing, I actually enjoy the career related articles published on this site – and apparently find them worthy of being talked about on this here blog. And, usually, I agree with the takeaways from these articles (a Tina Fey intern movie will be funny!)

However, this recent article about the value of a cover letter left me down right agitated. As a career services professional I spend a great deal of my time forcing convincing students to write cover letters. So imagine my outrage when I read this:

I've never understood why some employers demand a cover letter sent in with a resume. It's a dick move in so many ways. It's giving you extra homework that you shouldn't have to do. And it's basically saying to people, "Can you please waste both paper and time in the clumsiest way possible?" No HR department lackey is gonna spend time reading a cover letter. All they wanna know is if you went to a decent school and if you aren't a registered sex offender. If you make it past that round of cuts (and you probably won't, because American employers expect way too much of people), then they have to bring you in and meet you face-to-face to make sure you aren't an asshole.

So, for Drew Magary and anyone else who reads my blog (Hi Grandma!), here is my defense of cover letters. Bulleted out. Because it’s just easier that way. And yes, you can use bullets effectively in a cover letter.
  • Cover letters do in fact have value. Perhaps most importantly, cover letters serve as a writing sample (you’d think a journalist would realize that). If you plan on applying for any job with some modicum of writing, you’d better be able to articulate in a clear, concise manner why you are qualified for the job you are applying for.
  • A cover letter allows you to show fit. It allows you to make yourself stand out from the rest of the pack. It’s true, chances are HR will not look at your cover letter. But when HR hands the Hiring Manger 15 resumes, you’d better believe that she’ll look at attached cover letters before inviting candidates to participate in a phone screens or in-person interviews.
  • Cover letters allow you to show you did your homework. Have you ever hired anyone? There is a feeling of pure joy that exists when you read a cover letter addressed to yourself by name.  So feed the hiring manager's narcissistic cravings show you did you homework and whenever possible do not begin a cover letter with “Dear sirs.” For goodness sakes, at least use the more gender friendly “Dear Hiring Manager.” 
I know that students and career-changers alike will continue to wonder if they must write a cover letter. Applicants will continue to wonder if anyone will read their cover letter. (Hint: the answer is probably not). But do you want to be the candidate who gets thrown out for lack of a cover letter? (Hint: the answer is no). Here’s the honest truth. If you’re actually a strong candidate, prove it. Write the gosh darn cover letter. And if you bring it into career services, I promise to read it.

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