Invariably, when job seekers try to figure out what’s going to help them stand out to an employer, the subject of cover letters comes up – followed by confusion.
Do you really need a cover letter for each executive job application? How can you be sure that employers are actually reading the letter you’re so carefully crafting?
Is it a myth that a cover letter can distinguish you in the executive job search?
Here are 3 key points to consider when it comes to the cover letter question:
1 – Yes, cover letters are read by (some) employers.
However, this varies among different companies and their hiring practices. An informal survey posted at About.com shows some hiring managers are absolutely emphatic – a great cover letter WILL boost your chances of being selected for an executive-level interview!
Studies in the careers industry consistently nearly two-thirds of hiring authorities read cover letters, and of that group, nearly half consider them important.
You'll never know at the outset which third of hiring managers you're dealing with, of course. Therefore, it’s better to be prepared than lose out on a great opportunity.
2 – Recruiters aren’t that interested in your cover letter, but need a short introduction.
Most executive recruiters will tell you they have little use for a cover letter. In fact, since they’re experts in drilling into the heart of your resume to see your true qualifications, they may even consider your letter to be a bothersome part of the job application.
However, you’ll find some recruiters advocate using a letter – even if they don’t personally prefer to review it, as outlined in Forbes’ “Why You Need A Cover Letter, Even If No One Reads It.”
The reasons? You can often specify in a letter what is taboo to mention on a resume, such as relocation plans or a desire to return to work.
Therefore, if a recruiter is your intended audience, keep your letter to a short introduction centered on the facts (what executive title you’re pursuing, where you’re open to moving, etc.), preferably pasted into the body of an email message.
3 – Some hiring managers actually prefer your cover letter over your resume.
Believe it or not, many hiring executives like to read your cover letter (and may even place more weight on it than your resume!), as they believe it provides insight into your personality.
A CEO, for example, may skip over the resume entirely to read your cover letter – preferring it to the jargon of your executive resume. (If you’re presenting a case to become the next CFO, you can bet he or she will tend to your letter carefully.)
Where cover letters make the most sense is when you're pitching a company directly – without a posted job opening (using a strong opening line, such as “Here’s what you’ll gain from bringing me in as your next sales leader”).
You can use the letter to explain your interest in the company and your unique value-add to them. (Don’t know that? Get your research game on, using the firm’s annual report and googling for trends in their industry.)
Bottom line, an expertly written, compelling cover letter may prove to be a potent job search weapon, even though your executive resume must be aligned closely with your goal. There’s always a chance employers will find your letter compelling enough to move you along in the hiring process.