A few weeks ago, friend and fellow HAPPO champ, Nikki Little from Identity PR, asked the following question:
“In your opinion, how important is it to submit a cover letter when applying for a job, particularly if only a resume is requested? I see pros/cons to submitting and not submitting one.”
It’s not a new question, but one people continue to ask about–in this case, even hiring managers.
Although I’ve been out of the hiring scene for four-plus years now, I’ll share my take since I was on the hiring side before that for 14-plus years.
For me, a cover letter IS a good idea for a few reasons:
Telling a story you can’t tell in your resume
Sure your resume tells the story of your professional life, but it really only does that in bit and pieces. A cover letter, on the other hand, allows you to tell that professional story in a deeper, richer way. For example, you could elaborate a bit on those Silver Anvils you won in 2005–more about the “how” you won the awards. Or, maybe you talk more in-depth about the fantastic results a campaign you headed up for a previous employer yielded. You get the idea.
Showcasing your writing style/skills
For PR/social jobs, one of the absolute key skills is writing. No surprise there, right? So, isn’t your cover letter the first chance you have to make a great first impression on that potential employer? Why not turn that cover letter into a story–the story of why you were born to work for that employer.
Making a personal/emotional connection
The cover letter is also a great opportunity for you to make a personal or emotional connection with the potential employer or hiring manager. For example, let’s say I’m applying for a job at an agency here in Minneapolis and I notice on LinkedIn that the hiring manager is a KU alum. Since I attended KU (OK, just for a year, but I consider myself a honorary alum), I would definitely mention that in the letter and probably include some sort of KU-specific reference only an alum would appreciate. Bang–instant emotional connection.
A number of other fellow PR folks also weighed in on the Facebook direct message from Nikki:
Heather Whaling, Geben Communications
I require cover letters and I sometimes find that more helpful than the resume. I want to know if you can write, whether you took the time to personalize the letter or sent a “canned” letter, etc. I think I learn a lot from cover letters that you can’t get from a resume, but are very telling for how you’ll do in the job. Obviously, you need to have a quality resume, too. But I think cover letters offer a lot of insights about how they approach their writing, which is important in PR and social.
Mike Schaffer, Hager Sharp
Agree – cover letters provide context to an application. It also shows that an applicant cares enough about the potential position to write a letter about it.
Nikki Little, Identity PR
Personally, as someone who manages the recruiting for our team, I’m indifferent. We don’t request cover letters, and sometimes we receive them and sometimes we don’t. I always read them (OK, sometimes I skim if they’re super long!), but I’m more interested in what’s on the resume. I don’t think I’ve ever been interested in talking with someone based on what’s in their cover letter. It’s always the resume.
What do you think? Is a cover letter really needed with your resume?