What is it with the love affair people have with cover letters? Is it professional? Sure. Is it a nice way to give a complete presentation of your professionalism? Check. Does it show you completed a basic course in business writing in college? Probably. But is it absolutely necessary to have in order to be considered a top candidate for a role? In my opinion, no. But that would differ from a great deal of opinions from people in the Twittersphere and Blogosphere right now.
There are a number of people out there who feel the cover letter is an essential piece of the puzzle, and key in determining the validity of a candidate. Just this week, there was banter out there on Twitter about how one Twitster would toss out the resume of a candidate who did not have a cover letter! Really? Are you that flush with candidates that you can just arbitrarily throw out potential stars because they didn’t have the obligatory “pick me” letter? I’d be hard pressed to believe that is the case with many companies in many areas, where the pool for talent is being thinned by everyone, and in a market where a large percentage of seekers are top performers, hit hard by the economy.
What I don’t get, is what are you getting from the cover letter that ensures that this candidate is better than everyone else who doesn’t have one? Writing skills? Ok, sure, but won’t the resume give you some inclination of the writing skills? Or the e-mails you have traded back and forth with them (assuming you DID e-mail with them). Most importantly, won’t their previous experience, and the phone call that you have with them tell you a bit more accurately if they are the right choice? Thing is, I think we’re becoming to focused on the quick hit, the “thin-slicing” of the recruiting process, to steal a phrase from Malcom Gladwell’s book, Blink. Don’t mistake me, recruiting is a quick moving, minute-by-minute profession, but we also need to step back at times, and make sure we’re taking in the full picture. Too often, we see no cover letter, and think “oh well they are not professional”, or “they couldn’t take the time to write me a personal cover letter?”
Lest we forget, that in this day and age, it’s becoming profitable to be a cover letter or resume writer. Do a quick search on Twitter for “cover letter” and you’ll get a minimum of 5 services in the 1st 25 tweets, for people peddling their services. (I’m not knocking it as a profession, it’s actually quite a needed service for some folks.) But, let’s remember that there’s a better than average chance, the cover letter you covet (too much ‘cov-” there? Ah, I digress) so much has a good probability of being written by someone else anyway, so it’s still not giving you the indicator of the candidate you want.
We need not kill off the cover letter. I think it’s a nice touch, and I’ll read it if there is one. But that said, let’s not let it become the determining standard. As with social media, it’s not the end game, its not the sole strategy, but more of a tool in the arsenal.
What a lovely segue to my follow-up post.