Are Cover Letters Still Relevant?

To Whom It May Concern:

I am an experienced marketing professional interested in pursuing a challenging new growth opportunity with Wonderful Company. I have a degree from Top-Notch University and have worked for five years in a variety of positions. Enclosed is a carefully crafted and meticulously formatted resume outlining my lofty awards and outstanding achievements. I realize someone in HR likely will run the document through a scanner and human eyes will never examine it. In light of that, I am writing to inquire as to whether I should even bother writing a cover letter.

Sincerely,

Ima Rockstar

In a day when an estimated 90 percent of cover letters go unread, Ima is not alone in pondering that question. In fact, some experts advise clients to focus on the resume and forego the cover letter entirely.

Still, other studies indicate that more than half of employers favor candidates who include cover letters, which puts the document into the same category as flood insurance. There’s a good chance you’ll never need it, but it’s handy to have just in case.

A well-crafted cover letter is a golden opportunity to begin marketing yourself to the company. A cover letter also lets you introduce yourself on a more personal level, and that approach can make a difference.

Even if there’s a 90 percent chance your cover letter will be ignored, the process of writing it has value. It’s an opportunity to discover more about yourself and about your potential employer.

To write a great cover letter, you’ll need to research the company to find out why you’re a fantastic fit—or you might discover that you’re a horrible match and scrap the entire application. In explaining why you’ll excel at the job, you’ll figure out if your skills and the company’s needs are truly aligned. A cover letter also is a chance to let your passion and personality shine through. If you discover midway through that you just can’t muster much enthusiasm for the job, at least you’ve found that out before you’ve committed.

A cover letter also can serve as a draft elevator pitch and warm-up for an eventual interview. The areas you highlight in your cover letter can become your talking points for every conversation you have with the company.

Once you’ve gone to all the trouble to research your cover letter, don’t blow it by being boring. Look again at Ima’s approach. It follows a traditional format of listing goal, experience and education at the start. In other words, it doesn’t tell the recipient anything that the resume-scanning software hasn’t already revealed, and it certainly doesn’t inspire the reader to continue.

These days, there’s room for a more creative tack, anything from creating a social media campaign to buying Google ads. One potential intern crafted a cover letter around being completely average. The approach drew some criticism but also a lot of attention as it was forwarded time and again, complete with the writer’s contact information.

Your cover letter probably won’t go viral. It might even wind up in the circular file—or, to put it in today’s electronic terms, in the computer's recycling bin. But just maybe it won’t, which is why a cover letter still is worth writing.
 

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