Q: I’m applying for my first job in eleven years – all that time I’ve been happy in my current role, but I’ve started to get itchy feet. I have put a lot of work into fine tuning my CV and am happy with how it portrays me. It’s just short of two pages. My question is, do I need a cover letter to go with it or are they a thing of the past? (LK, email).
A: The reality when it comes to job searching is that no one size fits all. One recruiter may be all about cover letters; another may never even read them. Here are some thoughts that will hopefully help you to reach a decision that’s appropriate for you.
In a poll of 355 career professionals worldwide earlier this year, 28 per cent said they always recommend cover letters, a coincidental 28 per cent said they never use them and the remaining 54 per cent said it depended on the role and sector.
My approach is to look at this as if you are a salesperson. Is there something additional you can put in the cover letter that doesn’t necessarily fit in your CV? For example, this could be a couple of lines explaining why you think you are a fit for the company – because you haven’t worked for them in the past, that information cannot be in your CV. Or the cover letter could explain that you are about to move to the part of the country where the new job is based.
Complement your CV
In short, I see the cover letter as a complement to your CV. By and large, I would look for reasons to include one. But doctors differ and patients die. The overall thrust of my point is that you should view the application process as a chance to sell yourself, not a time to just play by some perceived version of ‘the rules’.
Ultimately, you’ve got to craft what you believe to be a good depiction of your career and your suitability for the role, and hope that it lands with the person who reads it first in the company or recruitment agency.
If you decide to use a cover letter, make sure it is brief and to the point. Personally, I favour deploying the same font in the cover letter and the CV. If there is a particular item you would like them to read in the CV, you could flag it in the cover letter.
These days, it is perfectly acceptable to paste the cover letter into the body of an application e-mail, while attaching the CV separately. Or, alternatively, you could attach both documents to the e-mail, and put a short note in the body. Personalise the cover letter with the name of the company, the contact name and the advertisement and relevant information. When you study the company and the advertisement closely enough, you should be able to come up with a number of titbits you can slot into the cover letter.
They will see that this is not just a broadcast cover letter you sent to everybody. As I’ve often said here before, applying for a job should feel like a surgical strike.
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