Is the cover letter dead?
Personally, I don’t think so. There are few better ways to tell the story of why you’re making a career pivot, point out strengths that aren’t clear from your resume, and craft a personalized message about why you’re the right one for the job.
I’m not alone. This week, I moderated a panel of hiring managers from top employers, all but one of whom said they always read cover letters. (The one who didn’t was from Google, which is a different hiring process than most in many ways.) Recruiter and Muse Master Coach Jenny Foss raves about the power of them, as she’s “witnessed, time and again, the sheer power of a well-written one.” Here at The Muse, we won’t consider applications without them.
But turns out, we’re in the minority: A September 2015 Jobvite survey found that 55% of hiring managers consider cover letters unimportant in their search process. As in, even if you do go through all the hard work of writing one, personalizing it for each company, and addressing it to the right person, it might not get read or considered at all.
So, what’s a job seeker to do?
My advice: You should still write that cover letter—wouldn’t it be a shame to not include one for those employers who do still consider it worthwhile? But you should also do all of the following, which’ll make sure you stand out even if it never gets read.
1. Tailor Your Resume
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: You absolutely must tailor your resume to each position you apply for, making it crystal clear to the hiring manager why your experience lines up with the job description. This will look slightly different depending on who you are and the types of positions you’re aiming for, but be sure to pull your most relevant bullets for each job to the top of each section, and shorten (or even remove altogether) ones that don’t relate to the role at hand. If you’re shifting careers or have a few different types of experience, consider breaking your experience section into two, the top highlighting your relevant experience, and the other listing out everything else.
And finally, show your completed document to a couple of friends or a resume coach, and ask them what types of position they think you’re applying for. If it’s not immediately clear, get back to work. If you won’t have a chance to share why you’re the perfect fit in your cover letter, your resume really needs to work double duty.
2. Consider a Summary Section
Experienced professionals and executives often begin their resume with a summary section, which gives an overview of their experience before diving in to their places of work. And there’s no reason you can’t do the same!
Explains Muse career expert Lily Zhang: “A summary statement…essentially consists of a few pithy and strong statements at the beginning of your resume that help summarize your skills and experience in order for a prospective employer to quickly get a sense of the value you could offer.” If any employer breezes right past your cover letter, including statements that tie your experience together and personalize it for the job at hand can be a great way to get your message across.
3. Include Links Where People Can Learn More About You
Even if a hiring manager reads every word of your cover letter, it’s still just an 8.5x11” document—and there’s a whole lot more to your story than that, right? Take full advantage of all the other ways out there you can share your story—a fully tricked-out LinkedIn profile, a personal website or blog, professional social profiles—and then share links to these sites on your resume. If a hiring manager’s interested in learning more, he or she will click right over.
4. Use the Email Body or “Additional Information” Section to Your Advantage
The hiring managers who typically don’t read cover letters certainly aren’t going to open an email attachment titled, “Cover Letter.” But they just might read information that’s put right in front of them. So, if you’re applying via email, drop your cover letter right in the body of your message. (It’s also worth attaching it as a PDF, just in case they do read it and want to file it away somewhere.) If you’re applying via an applicant tracking system, you can write a short message about yourself in the “Additional Information” section. Zhang has a few ideas for you, right here.
5. Get Recommended
Finally, remember that the next best thing to telling your own story is having someone else tell it for you. (Heck, it might even be better, since he or she can brag about you without sounding like an egomaniac!) So, see if you know anyone at the company (or who knows the hiring manager) who can put in a good word for you. Here are a few tips for tracking down said connection, and here’s a template that’ll help you craft the perfect ask.
Sadly, even if you pour your heart and soul into a brilliant cover letter, it might never get read. But rather than bemoan this fact, use it to your advantage, and stand out in all the other ways that are available to you.