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The death of the cover letter?

by Natalie Rogers

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All too often when giving job seeking advice, I will hear job seekers say, “oh I would usually put that into my cover letter”. But, since working in the recruitment industry for more than five years, I’ve developed the opinion that this is a bad move. Let me explain why.   

Relying on a cover letter to be the key factor for decisionmakers can see you leaving out vital information from your job application that can be the make-or-break of you getting through to the next round, or even making it through to the initial screening process.

So, has the cover letter fallen to the wayside?

The recruitment screening process can be broken down to include two main types of people who will look at your job application: Agency recruiter and Internal HR, or the team’s senior manager. In the current market, any one job opportunity can trigger around 50 – 200+ applications. The outbreak of COVID-19 has created a new problem: being that employers and recruiters are overwhelmed by applications for advertised jobs. Many applications received are completely irrelevant to the role, and then there are those who are underqualified, and those who are overqualified but have found themselves unexpectedly back in the job market. In between these applications, there are the few great candidates.

What does this mean for job applications?

Although your job application may have taken you hours to write, the truth is that the first round of screening can often involve your resume being scanned for less than a minute to decide whether or not to put it through to the next round. Therefore, it is unlikely that this first round of screening will include the cover letter, and if you’re shortlisted often that cover letter is often passed onto the next round. Instead, the focus will be on your resume and interview skills.

Because of this, unless the job ad specifically requests one, I would not rely on a cover letter to be winning over the hiring manager or recruiter.  

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What should you focus on instead of a cover letter?

 My recommendation is to ensure your resume reflects your career:

  • Ensure all relevant key achievements, skills, experience or role responsibilities are clearly stated on your resume to show employers you are perfect for the role they are advertising.

  • Ensure all your current contact details including phone, email, LinkedIn profile, and visa details (if relevant) are included on your resume. 

  • Show some personality within your resume, either in an introductory paragraph that provides an indication of what you’re like as a candidate and what you’re looking for in your next career role.

  • Make sure that your resume is optimised with keywords relevant to the role, as many businesses use software programs to shortlist resumes in the first instance.

 If you do decide to write a cover letter, make sure:

  • It’s tailored specifically for the job you are applying for – having the wrong details, for example Dear [wrong name], is a huge mistake and can have your application thrown out immediately.

  • You have your contact details on both the cover letter and resume, in case they get separated. We often see people who only put them on the cover letter which is a dangerous game.

  • If requested in the job ad, you address the key selection criteria for the role and provide any additional information requested.

  • Ensure that you’re not just regurgitating everything in your resume into a longer and harder to read format.

With the job market becoming more saturated than ever, job applications should be tailored to understand the person or program on the other end reading your application. Although the cover letter used to hold a huge weight in job applications, candidate’s online footprint and resume have become the most essential part of an application. It might seem unnatural but putting the cover letter to bed will see you have more time to make sure the rest of your job application better reflects you and your career.

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