September 23, 2014

A Different Approach to Cover Letters

by Brian Skory

What a Hiring Manager Should See
In the technical staffing side of our business, when we submit a candidate to a company we forward over at least two pieces of information: 1) a resume, and 2) a paragraph or two of notes highlighting how this candidate is a great fit for the position (in essence, a "cover letter"). This information will either get sent directly to the hiring manager or it will be sent to someone in HR who will review and then forward on to the hiring manager, depending on the policies and preferences of the company.

What a Hiring Manager Often Sees
On a recent submission, after my HR contact had forwarded my candidate's information over to the hiring manager, I heard back that the candidate was being declined for not having large-scale software development experience. I found this to be curious since the submission notes clearly highlighted the developer's extensive experience with this. I realized that my HR contact had simply forwarded the resume to the hiring manager without the accompanying and critical submission notes. I'm sure she didn't do it on purpose, but it did highlight what could potentially be a glaring hole in the submission process.

Later in the week while chatting with a different candidate, my suspicions were further confirmed as he talked about preparing a very detailed cover letter to accompany his resume submission to a company he had applied to, and that cover letter clearly not making it into the hiring manager's hands. A carefully crafted cover letter can truly make the difference between being rejected or being the candidate of choice, so how can we ensure that this important information is read by the people who most need to see it?

Keeping the Resume and the Cover Letter Together

My initial thought was to include the cover letter with the resume and bundle them both as one PDF, but even this solution has some potential pitfalls. My next idea—and the better one, in my opinion—is to tailor the "summary" paragraph at the top of the resume to basically include all the points you would want to make in a cover letter. If you feel that your cover letter is simply too long to fit into one paragraph, then your cover letter probably needs pruning. Of course, this approach necessitates your tailoring your resume for each company you submit it to, but if you've read my prior newsletters, you know you should be doing that anyway.

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