Cover Letters — To be or not to be?
Do I really need to write cover letters?
If you prefer to get an answer to this question in a video format, here is a video for you:
Cover letters. To write or not to write?
Here is an ambiguous answer for you.
Yes and No.
Let me explain.
1. No. Don’t write cover letters.
Do not write those archaic long-form cover letters 1–2 pages long.
Here is the logic:
- The world of recruitment is fast
- Recruiters look at the resume first
- Yes, we do spend 6 sec on the resume
- If your resume doesn’t match the narrative of what we are looking for, your cover letter is irrelevant
- Big blocks of text are being skipped over
- We don’t read long letters — time is of the essence
- We don’t even read resumes in depth. We’d rather hop on a call with you and listen to how you articulate your story.
- Effective written communication is always succinct, precise, and organized but most importantly, effective written communication gets one job done — it gets the reader to want to read what’s written until the end. Are you an effective writer?
2. Yes. DO write Cover Letters.
If a company gives you an opportunity to pitch, take it.
- Hiring teams think in terms of risk
- Risk is reversely proportional to the amount of information the team has about the candidate (meaning: basically they want to know how you think and what your mind can do)
- Every data point that you can provide the team helps and will work in your favor
- Your resume doesn’t have a voice. Your cover letter (and your LinkedIn profile) give you an opportunity to show your voice.
- Leverage the opportunity to showcase your voice and unique personality. Explain the things that your resume doesn’t explain.
- Your resume should answer the questions: “Do you have the right amount of experience?” and “Do you have the right type of experience?”. In other words, the question is: “Are you qualified?”
- Your cover letter should answer the question: “Why are you interested?” and “Convince me that you are a fit for this role”. Perception engineering!
When I add a space for candidates to attach a cover letter, write a pitch, or answer the question “Why are you interested in joining our company?”, here are some of the answers that I see (💭 with a corresponding thought process that I have right after).
- leaving blank space — 💭 lack of effort, not invested, not interested, doesn’t really see this role as an opportunity, no intelligence to leverage the opportunity to present themselves, lazy. I don’t need a long essay, but you can write me a witty Tweet-like message and get my attention.
- “money” — 💭😐 No shit. I thought you are working for fun.
- “It will be a great opportunity for me to improve my skills” — 💭 Do you think the business cares about giving you an opportunity to improve your skills? I think you misunderstand what is the purpose of all businesses. All businesses exist with one purpose — generate revenue. Tell them how you can help them with that. How can you make money? How can you save money? How can you improve a process in a meaningful way so that it saves/makes money?
- Info copy-pasted from the website — 💭 Wow. Mind-blowing. 🤯 This requires true depth and some unfathomable intelligence.
Here is what one candidate wrote yesterday:
Maybe this guy was banging his head against the keyboard in overwhelming frustration at the fact that he can’t secure a job. Well, I am not surprised.
Always go an extra click.
Everyone says “I am ready to go above and beyond”. Few actually do.
✅ What I really want to see is 3 short bullet points:
- This is what I am professionally (Communicate from the first line that you are exactly what I am looking for. You can’t do that if you are not studying the Job Description)
- This is why I am interested (You don’t need to give a laundry list of reasons. Just pick 1 or 2 and be very specific about it. Show that you have done your research.)
- This is what I can bring to the table (Again, your resume will tell me if you are qualified or not. But this question will let you think outside of the box. What is not written on the resume but maybe is a good thing to share to minimize the perceived hiring risk?)
If you can inject a witty hook or a powerful closer line, you will intrigue the reader and will maximize your chances of getting a call.
A cover letter is a cold email.
Read this again. Be smart about it.
Example of a Cold Email
Loved your LinkedIn post this week. 22 years! This is insane. Being a Jr. Tech Recruiter with only 1 year of experience I am intimidated sometimes when I talk to Senior Leaders in the Talent space but your story is inspirational and I can tell that you are “rooting for the underdogs” so I thought I’d reach out.
Not sure if you are hiring for your team at the moment but it would be great if we could connect a quick phone call. I love tech and love hiring devs (hired 25 in my first year).
My resume is attached. I know you are super busy. I would be grateful if you could take a look! Totally cool if the timing is off. But if you find 8 min for a quick phone call, would love to put the voice to the name :)
Is it my best writing? Not at all, just winged it without editing.
Would this work? Not sure, need to ask Martin.
But there are several things that this message does:
- I show that I have done my research on the person (personal touch)
- I communicate my career level (not leaving the reader guessing)
- I present my results (and hopefully they are good enough to impress)
- I infuse my message with enthusiasm and excitement (good vibes only)
- I remove the pressure (“totally cool if the timing is off”)
- I ask for a minimum time investment — of 8 min
- I make it weird enough to be intriguing (“Why the F he asks for 8 min?”)
Apply the same principles in your cover letters. Write as you speak. You are not an English Literature Professor writing his next publication. Be a copywriter, not an academician.
Writing that converts is always thoughtful writing. Put some thought into it and you will see results.
Hope this short article gives you a little bit more understanding of how recruiters perceive cover letters.
Of course, you can’t generalize all recruiters. All people are different. But I hope my thoughts on the matter give you some perspective on how to approach your cover letters and even your cold emails.
Now go get’em ✊