September 27, 2018

Trust HR, the cover letter isn’t dead yet

In the age of LinkedIn profiles and email, it’s tempting to think that there’s no longer any need for a cover letter. I’d argue the opposite is true. In fact, when it comes to human resources, I think it’s more important than ever and a great opportunity to demonstrate how you’re the perfect candidate for that new job you’ve always wanted.

Are cover letters required in HR anymore?

I could be going out on a limb here, some HR professionals have declared the cover letter dead. And figures from a Jobvite survey last year in the US show many job applicants agree – 47% of Americans didn’t use a cover letter when they applied for the job they’re currently in.

Also, the younger you are the more likely you are not to bother with one – 58% of those aged 18-22 didn’t send a cover letter.

This is certainly a trend I’m seeing here in Australia when we recruit for our clients or for ourselves at Catalina Consultants. Many applicants leave off a cover letter, assuming their CV or LinkedIn profile will do all the convincing for them. But it’s not a wise idea.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to get a job without one. Many people succeed in getting a job based on their CV alone. And some companies using an online system for applications allow no space to add one. So there are circumstances in which you safely say you won’t need a cover letter.

But in most situations, speaking from experience in HR, if you leave a cover letter out you run the risk of someone who values them ignoring your application altogether just because it is undifferentiated from the pile other applications they’ve received.

Why we need cover letters for talent recruitment

That’s what a good cover letter does. It shows why you’re different to everyone else who’s applied. It tells me why I should read your CV in the first place. It draws the connections between what you’ve done – your education, skills, experience and past career – and the job you’re applying for.

In doing so, it makes the HR department or recruiter’s job easy by doing the heavy lifting and letting you explain yourself up front so that you’re on the front foot when it comes to helping them form an opinion of you.

What a good cover letter does for talent recruitment

While a CV is somewhat formulaic and static no matter what the job is, a cover letter is bespoke. It lets you talk about the specific role and argue your case. Why choose me?

It’s no easy task to write a good one (which is one of the main reasons I think many people prefer to skip it altogether). But here are the key characteristics I think a good cover:

  • is short: a maximum of one page or four paragraphs – no more.
  • provides context: it’s your chance to take control and state your case by showing why your skills and experience are relevant.
  • is personal: you should use it to introduce yourself and show a bit of flair (just don’t go crazy). You can also be less formal and more direct than you’d be in a CV.
  • is a chance to show off: it should be your opportunity to demonstrate some of the skills you say you have – like written communication skills.
  • should show you understand the organisation and the role: write about what is entailed in the job and how it relates to your skills, so the recruiter knows that you haven’t just applied for everything advertised.
  • is unique: it should never just regurgitate your CV but can be used to highlight something you think may be overlooked or ignored in your CV.
  • can help you explain: put in context your experience, your career journey and any career breaks, study breaks or career changes.
  • should be persuasive without being arrogant: use your narrative to engage your reader and show why you’re interested in this job above all others.
  • lets you reveal your knowledge: write about the area, issue, brand or company – whatever it is that matters – and demonstrate your enthusiasm and excitement at the opportunity you’re applying for.

Make your cover letter recruitment worthy

I know, I know. It’s hard to do all of this in four paragraphs. When I said it wasn’t going to be easy I wasn’t lying. But use your judgement. The right ingredients for your cover letter will depend on you personally, the job you’re applying for, and the company and industry it’s in. The nice thing about cover letters is there’s no right or wrong: it’s about introducing yourself and presenting yourself in the best possible light so you have the best chance of showing you’re a good fit for the role and snaring yourself that all-important interview.

Keen to find out more?

If you’d like to know more about what to look for in a cover letter or have any questions about HR or talent recruitment, then get in touch.

say hi to our author

Merilyn founded Catalina Consultants in 2012 on the belief that all organisations, regardless of size, should have access to top quality bespoke HR services. She enjoys working closely with her clients and believes that the best results are built on relationships of rapport, trust and authenticity. Growing up, Merilyn had her sight set on stardom and dreamed of becoming an actor. She also sang and played the piano, but ended up studying accounting and HR. Whilst she hasn’t won her Grammy just yet, she still loves a good karaoke night. Merilyn loves to travel with her family, with South Africa being one of her most memorable destinations.

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