Is Anybody Even Reading Cover Letters?

Last Updated Mar 11, 2011 6:23 AM EST

Dear Evil HR Lady,
Now that employers aren't reading resumes - instead just putting them through scanners to find keyword matches - do they still read cover letters? I've got no problem crafting specific cover letters for the various jobs I'm applying to. That said, my job search is time-consuming enough without spending time and energy on a cover letter no one is going to read.
I think I better clear some things up. While it's true that in many companies, your resume needs to get selected through a key word search done with the computer, humans still look at your resumes.

You certainly can be rejected from a job by a computer, but you will never get hired without the recruiter, hiring manager, and other interviewers reading your resume. This is why it is critical to have a great resume and not just one filled with key word blather.

And this is also why you must, must, must have a fantastic cover letter.

Everybody the computer deems acceptable has all the necessary skills (on paper, anyway). In most jobs, far more people than will ever be interviewed will have the necessary experience to do the job. A cover letter is something that will push you over the top.

Alison Green, at US News, gives solid advice on why a cover letter isn't just something to take lightly.
A cover letter is your opportunity to make a compelling case for yourself as a candidate, totally aside from what's in your resume.

That because for most jobs, picking the best candidate is rarely solely about skills and experience. Those obviously take center stage, but if that's all that mattered, there would be no point in interviews; employers would make a hire based off of resumes alone. But in the real world, other factors matter too--people skills, intellect, communication abilities, enthusiasm for the job, and simply what kind of person you are. A good cover letter effectively conveys those qualities.
Remember, a cover letter isn't just a restatement of the facts on your resume. It's an opportunity to tell them why you should be hired. What is it about you that makes you unique? Why is this company such a good fit for you?

Please note, do not say, "I am the best candidate for this job," because you sound pompous and since you have no idea who else has applied, you have no idea if that is true.

Writing a cover letter is hard. It takes time. But it can make the difference between a "meh" and a "let's bring this person in for an interview."

Ask a Manager has a great sample cover letter that you can use as a guide.

For further reading:
Have a workplace dilemma? Send an email to EvilHRLady@gmail.com
Photo by josef.steufer, Flickr cc 2.0

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