The Cover Letter - Yay or Nay?

I read this article the other day on LinkedIn Pulse about a hiring manager's claim that cover letters weigh more than resumes (hint: they do not). Reading the comments, there seemed to be a lot of mixed feedback on this topic. From a recruiters standpoint, cover letters are not helpful. So, the question is: should we, or should we not, provide a cover letter? Before you start stressing about writing one, here are my thoughts. 1) High technology industry approaches the job search a bit differently.  Especially you are applying for an engineering related job, recruiters/hiring managers seldom read cover letters, and thus it is not helpful (so use your time doing something else).  Instead, hiring managers and recruiters will resort more heavily on other things like a strong resume or strong LinkedIn profile (I sometimes don't even collect a candidate's formal resume because I can resort to their LinkedIn).

What about non-tech related jobs within the high-technology industry? If you are applying for something that requires strong writing/communications skills (like marketing, business development, or public relations), a strong cover letter could help further demonstrate your strengths.  However, remember that a cover letter will not exactly "make" a decision on whether the company is interested in talking further; if written incorrectly, it could even break your chances.  It also depends on the context of your industry.

2) No one has time to read a long cover letter. If you are sending in a cover letter that is more than 3 paragraphs in length, then you are doing it wrong.  Hiring managers and recruiters simply don't have the time to read through an entire essay, so don't send it in, as it might even hurt your chancesStrong cover letters are brief and to the point; candidates must be explicit about who they are and what they are looking for, and give strong examples of why they are a fit. Strong cover letters (and good candidates) present information that is well organized and easy to find. I'll write a post on this later.

3) Don't ever send a cookie-cutter cover letter. Ever. The obvious reason is that cut and paste cover letters may overlook small details that the applicant might not see. You might be blasting off 10 cover letters a day, and though it seems efficient, you forget to change the name of the company. Oops. The maybe not-so-obvious reason of why a cookie-cutter cover letter is never a good idea is that every role is a bit different and needs to be tailored. The candidates that are able to able to identify the employer's wants/needs/pain points, and succinctly portray why they are a fit, will peak more interest. A candidate that can highlight why he/she is a good fit for this particular role and company is in a better position to be called back. Generic cookie cutter resumes usually do not capture that effect.

4) If you are spending too much time writing a cover letter, then it's not an efficient use of time. If you've been working on one cover letter for more than a couple hours (even days and/or weeks), then you are approaching it wrong. Your time is better spent on other methods, like networking, reaching out directly on LinkedIn, or connecting with people for informational interviews. The format for a cover letter is pretty standard, but what applicants usually struggle with is being able to tie the "why" into a short concise summary. If this is something holding you back in your job search, I suggest taking time off to reflect on your whole career image/trajectory/accomplishments/goals first. The better you are able to connect the dots, the better you can convey this value to others.

So, where do I stand? In short: if you are an engineer looking for an engineering role, then don't bother (but if you are an engineer looking to switch to something business-y, then write one). If you are in high-tech (i.e. Silicon Valley) but not in engineering, then it's up to your discretion, but it might not get read. If you are in a conservative industry where strong writing and communication skills are valued or a crucial part of the job, then sure, but make sure it's NOT longer than three paragraphs, a cookie cutter or that it took you more than 2 hours to write, because you could be being more efficient in other ways. If you don't want to write a formal cover letter, send out a similar format introduction email to the hiring manager or recruiter. Because what else are you going to write in your first introduction email?

As for this article, author Laura Nelson makes a few good points, but her argument is completely exaggerated.  Let's be honest: if Laura had only one hour to get through 200 resumes, she's better off picking through resumes, looking for relevant skills, then reading the cover letter as a final clinger - not the other way around. No matter how much "personality" you inject, after reading 200 of them, they will all start to blur, sorry. Personality is important, but if a candidate lacks the wrong fundamental skills, then it simply isn't a good fit (unless you are looking for a purely entry level role).



Resume Template: How to Make Your Resume Suck Less

resume I've seen some super horrendous looking resumes (and cover letters), and what I've found is simpler looking resumes are just easier to understand.  While I can't exactly help with the content, formatting plays a crucial part in making it easy for the reader to skim and get the whole idea. I'm not a fan of resumes that have vertical lines separating different sections, or one with too many graphics. Humans naturally read from left to right, top to bottom, so don't make your reader have to jump around the page to understand what's going on. Keep it simple.

Here is a very simple Resume Template that I personally use.  I wouldn't give you advice that I don't follow myself :)  It's saved in .doc form, incase you want to SaveAs and edit your own. Make sure you view the comments and markup.

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Resume Writing 101

[embed][/embed] The dreaded resume. To some, it's a pretty daunting task to update and send it in. To me, I love drafting, editing and finding ways to get it to perfection.  As a recruiter, I've seen a fair share of good and bad resumes.  I wanted to share with you a few tips on resume writing that I hope you will find helpful.

Keep in mind that the resume is the FIRST INITIAL IMPRESSION of yourself, so you really should spend the extra time to triple check everything.   Research shows that recruiters spend about 6 seconds reviewing a resume. Your resume needs to highlight the best parts of your career and leave the reader asking for more. 

General tips and tricks:

  • Keep your resume clean, nicely formatted and to the point. Make sure all the highlight, italics, bold fonts stay consistent.  General rule of thumb is to keep it to one page.  Unless you are super legit and have lots of publications/awards/patents, then its OK to go over. But, remember the recruiter/hiring manager may lose attention and focus trying to reach the end.
  • Don't just make a laundry list of what you do. It's boring and doesn't really tell the reader what makes you special. So why are you special? List your greatest achievements (from strongest to weakest) and quantify your success as much as you can. Use engaging action words as much as you can. 
  • Save your resume as a PDF when you send it in. Sometimes .doc formatting will get screwed up, not only making it hard to read, but also wasting your precious time spent formatting. Lock it in! (If you don't know already, steer away from .txt or other plain word processors, as those are impossible to read through).
  • While you're at it, update your LinkedIn as well. Trust me, you'll get so many more hits when your LinkedIn is current and updated. (Don't have a LinkedIn? Get one now!)
  • If you have industry experience, it's best to lead with that (and leave your education at the bottom).  On the other hand, if you are a new grad, lead with education first.
  • You should always put an "Extracurricular / Miscellaneous" section in your resume. Whether you a International Yo-Yo master, a famous YouTube star, or whatever, include your hobbies. It shows you have a personality outside of work and can be a great conversation starter in interviews.  Also, be sure to include whether you volunteer!
  • PLEASE FRIENDS, leave your full physical address off (keep the city). It might not seem like a big deal, but recruiters can be creepy sometimes (hehe) and might look up your address -- just because. There's really no reason for them to have your actual address (if they need it down the line, they will ask you). Also, your resume might one day float around on the internet, and it's really easy for internet stalkers to trace where you live. No bueno.

Tips that seem like common sense but people miss anyway:

  • Avoid redundancy and repetition. You don't need to tell the reader that "University of California, Los Angeles" is in Los Angeles.  Though, it might be helpful to put in the location if you are in a satellite campus (ex: Wharton SF or CMU Silicon Valley).


  • Stay professional. I know it's tempting to try being cute or witty in order to get attention. See that My Little Resume above? Yeah, you don't want to be that guy. Staying professional is always a safe bet; avoid coming across overly confident, snarky, or witty.
  • Make sure you use a current email address that you check often. This goes more for new grads, who might lose access to their school email address. It might "look cool" to have some email address, but the reader already knows you went to Harvard by reading other parts of your resume. Unless you have an alumni email address that you have access to forever (literally), it's best to put some other (professional) address that you check frequently. Why? Because who knows, maybe a recruiter down the line will be trying to reach you at your expired address (this happened a lot to me when I was at Google).
  • Avoid listing classes and courses, especially if you've been in the workforce for a while. It's a space killer and looks like fluff. For new grads, I would also advise against this (instead, send them a copy of your unofficial transcript).
  • Avoid certifications and awards that are not relevant to what you do. It also looks like fluff, and can hurt you.  At this day and age, no one cares if you are certified in using Microsoft Office. In the SValley, technical certifications (like Oracle/Cisco/Microsoft) don't seem to carry much weight either, especially for the hot tech companies.

To my fellow 15 page views out there (yessss!), thanks for reading! Hang tight for next week, as I will be providing a standard resume template for next time! :)