by Rick Gillis

Is writing that cover letter necessary?

Jul 01, 2015
CareersIT JobsResumes

Are cover letters necessary these days? That's up to the employer you're trying to get hired by. Read the job description carefully: a cover letter can be your first test as an employee.

In a previous life I hosted radio and TV employment-based talk shows and one of the questions I asked almost all hiring professionals before, during, or after the show was “Do you read cover letters?” The since-you-ask standard response was usually “No,” occasionally followed with a “Sometimes.”

I knew what they meant. Here’s what you should know.

Most hiring professionals are so inundated with “paper” that it is an accomplishment just to get through the thousand or so resumes that land in their inbox on a daily basis. On occasion a resume may be received that catches their eye and, if a cover letter is included, it may receive a glance.

Here is what you need to know.

Cover letters are a test. If you see a posting and the instructions to apply say “submit your resume and a cover letter to…” then you must submit a cover letter. It may not even be reviewed but those resumes received without a cover letter will be summarily dismissed. Get it? This is your first test. The employer is trying to determine if you can follow basic instructions. This is why I say that cover letters may be necessary.

I have even used this technique when hiring. Those responses I received without a cover letter after stating it was a requirement in my posting were straight away deleted and, honestly, who knows how many talented individuals I never considered simply because they could not follow this basic instruction.

So what do you say on a document that is not going to be read?

First rule regarding cover letter content: keep it short. Why put all that blood, sweat and tears into document that may not even be looked at?! Three paragraphs at most and only a sentence or two per paragraph will do the job. Show your reader how eloquent you can be in just a few lines. Brief is good!

  • Paragraph 1 – State that you are the ideal candidate, your interest in the position and in working for the company.
  • Paragraph 2 – Present a broad overview of your qualifications as they relate to the job. Do not go overboard. Your cover letter is not a second resume.
  • Paragraph 3 – Create a call to action. This content is up to you but I have always liked something as simple as: “I am ideally suited for this position. I look forward to hearing from you soon. With two weeks’ notice I can begin work. Please call as soon as you are able.”

Close with a proper “Sincerely” or “Respectfully,” your signature, your name typed, a single phone number (recruiters don’t call second phone numbers) and your email address.

I can’t emphasize how important brief is when it comes to a cover letter. Don’t waste your time trying to sell yourself here simply because (1) as mentioned earlier it probably won’t be read and (2) because your resume is your sales tool.