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Bold Advice: Don't Send a Resume Cover Letter

I always include a cover letter when I send in a resume to apply for a new job. That's what you are supposed to do according to every "how to get a job" article I've read.

But here comes business writing teacher David Silverman with some contrary advice: For most jobs, "don't bother" with a cover letter. He says they only compete with (and often just repeat) what's in your resume, which is the real meal to be digested by the prospective employer.

That said, Silverman does agree cover letters are necessary when either you know the name of the hiring person, you know something about the job qualifications, or you've been referred by someone. (Uh, why would you apply for a job you don't know anything about? But I digress)

Look, I'm still going out on a limb and suggest you send a cover letter with any job application. But when you do so, follow David's guidelines laid out on Harvard Business Publishing in his post The Best Cover Letter I Ever Received. In essence he says keep it simple, and "help your cause by doing some of the resume analysis for your potential new boss."

He gives an example of his idea of the perfect cover letter. It's a scant 75 words long, which adds to its power and makes it stand out.

As someone who has hired a few people over the years, I find that many cover letters often do more harm than good. The biggest sins, in addition to typos:

  • Hyperbole. "I think you will find by looking at my resume that I am uniquely qualified to fill the role you need." That term, which is used in every third cover letter, causes my eyes to glaze over. Other cover letter word bombs: "proven leader", "excelled in all previous positions", and "dynamic speaker." Sure, tout your best assets ("I have extensive large-scale-project management experience"), but don't oversell ("Previous employers marvel at my mastery of project management.)
  • Dear Hiring Manager. Someone who sends a form letter rather than takes the time to write a personal message expressly discussing the job at hand is too lazy by half. Address why the position appeals to you.
  • Too Long. The purpose of the resume and cover letter is not to get you the job. It's to get you an interview. No hiring manager has time to read through your bio-epic. In fact, the more you blather on, the more potential reasons you are feeding the employer to discard your application. "Her favorite food is mac cheese? I hate mac cheese. Good bye!"

To cover letter or not to cover letter? What ingredients do you think are essential for a successful cover page?