Executive Recruiting Morisey-Dart    

Do I Need a Cover Letter?
"Do I Need a Cover Letter in the Executive Job Search Process?"  What Do the Experts Say?...

Some say the traditional resume is outdated when it comes to a job search and now resume "timelines" or visual resumes are the latest and greatest thing.

Like the resume, many say the cover letter is on the way out. We decided to get the opinions of some experts in the Executive Career Coaching, Management, Human Resources, Personal Branding, Executive Recruitment, and Resume Writing fields. When asked about the importance of the cover letter and whether it still carries weight in an executive job search--this is what they had to say:

Meg Guiseppi, C-level Executive Branding and Job Search Strategist, and CEO at Executive Career Brand www.executivecareerbrand.com

"Although there are recruiters and hiring decision makers who will skip right over your cover letters, others read them religiously and judge candidates by them as strongly as they do their resumes and other career marketing communications. My research and experience over the years has revealed that NOT having a cover letter may kill your chances, but HAVING a cover letter will not likely hurt your chances. By all means, include personalized cover letters with your resume, targeting each specific employer."

"Besides, these days you're probably sending your resume by email as a Word attachment, so you need something in that email message. You might as well make it a hard-hitting, brand-reinforcing message, introducing your even harder-hitting resume. Some job search experts recommend ONLY sending highly-targeted cover letters, without a resume--something I'm hesitant about, except in certain circumstances. That strategy makes more sense than neglecting cover letters entirely. Since it's doubtful a cover letter will hurt them, job seekers would be wise to err on the side of caution and include customized, targeted cover letters. At the very least, a covering letter or email message is an expected courtesy to the reader, and clarifies why you're writing to them."

"Well-written job descriptions that look like a good mutual fit are valuable resources for composing cover letters that will hit home with your target audience. Use the same keywords in your cover letters, providing specific examples of your contributions and expertise, matching their needs with your value proposition in those areas. If the best you can do is send the same generic cover letter to every recruiter and employer hiring authority, assuming they will somehow interpret your good fit from your unfocused mishmosh, don't bother. A generic cover letter or one that simply rehashes the resume can have a negative impact. Your cover letter should be regarded and written as one more stand-alone career marketing piece in your brand communications plan, supporting your brand and good-fit qualities for the company."

"The thrust of cover letters should vary to meet specific circumstances and compel specific readers. For instance, a cold-call letter may have a different focus and read a bit differently than a referral letter. It all boils down to step one in launching any successful executive job search campaign--narrowing your search and knowing your target audience, then researching your target list of companies to determine their needs and how you can solve their problems. Because you're focusing your search in one direction, you may be able to re-use some of your cover letter messaging from one letter to the next, customizing the introductory paragraph and elsewhere as needed."

"Always write to a specific person. "Dear Sir" or "Dear Madam" won't do. Identify the key decision makers in your target companies to whom you'll send your letter with attached resume or other appropriate materials."

Susan Ireland, Author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Perfect Resume and Ready-Made Resumes software www.susanireland.com

"I don't believe the cover letter will ever die. There will always be a need for written communication between the job seeker and a recruiter or prospective employer. The form of that cover letter may change. For example, we now see more cover emails than the hardcopy cover letters. But the purpose is still the same:
- To introduce the resume.
- To strike up a personal connection with the reader.
- To create incentive for an interview."

Adrienne Tom, CPRW, CEIP, Founder and Director at Career Impressions, Award-Winning Certified Professional Resume Writer www.www.careerimpressions.ca

"Although there is great debate about how often recruiters actually read cover letters, I feel strongly that a cover letter should always be included as part of a job search application
package--especially at the executive level. Executives must ensure they show complete investment in the job search process; a well thought out and polished application package, complete with a stellar cover letter, is a must. Although times are changing in regards to how information is shared, the traditional resume and cover letter are still highly used and extremely valuable in a job search."

"Where a resume allows an individual to showcase his or her ability to do the job--the cover letter expresses interest in the role, allows personality and principles to shine, and places personal emphasis on what the individual can offer the organization. It is also an excellent medium for relaying leadership style and personal ethics. Overall, the cover letter is a vital tool for sharing critical career details; why would an executive waste the opportunity to do so?"

"A warning--at the executive career level the expectation will be even greater that the cover letter will be perfectly written (void of errors, succinct in style, and presented in a formal business letter format), and that it complements the resume without repeating it. Executives also want to take extra care to ensure the cover letter is cohesive in look and branding with all of their other career materials."

"I advise executive job seekers that even if the cover letter is not read, the risk of not including one is simply too great."

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, CEO of Xceptional HR and Author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business www.xceptionalhr.com

"Connections to key employees, not cover letters are important in the job search. An increasingly smaller percentage of HR and hiring professionals are viewing cover letters because of their lack of time and increased workload. Cover letters are marketing documents that are customized to the company. They often say what a company wants to hear instead of the real experience the candidate actually has. That is why social networking profiles and blogs serve as a better alternative for most employers to get a better sense about a prospective employee without all the marketing fluff. Whether a cover letter is read is generally based on preference but often not including one in your application can rule a candidate out. Failing to include one gives hiring managers a reason to disqualify the candidate as one who cannot follow simple instructions."

Dave Dart, Executive Recruiter and Managing Partner at the Morisey-Dart Group
www.morisey-dart.com

"Let's simply put this to a numbers test. If we assume that 50% of the decision makers read cover letters and 50% do not, the decision to write one is simple. By writing a cover letter you satisfy 100% of the recipients. The 50% that do read them have what they are expecting and the 50% that don't care will simply turn the page. Not writing the cover letter eliminates the 50% that were expecting one so this effectively reduces the chance of moving forward by that same number. Conclusion: Write the cover letter."

"Content is a different subject. The cover letter should be specific to the company and individual it is directed to. If answering an ad, one has an advantage in being able to direct comments specific to the request. The more difficult letter is one directed without knowledge of need. Here the letter needs to make an attempt at identifying opportunities that may not be open in the traditional sense. These letters should address how one's skills and work history match up with known company strategies or possible weak spots. With a bit of research there is plenty of information that can be gained and loads of insight to play off of. Most companies are fairly public with the goals for growth, plans for positive change, and desire to continuously improve. Reviews of customer comments often provide knowledge that can assist in gaining access."

"In short, the cover letter opens up what is in it for them. Your resume provides proof of performance."

Alison Green, Career and Management Expert at Ask a Manager, Author of How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager and Career Columnist at U.S. News & World Report www.askamanager.org

"If you're applying for jobs without including a customized cover letter, you're missing out on one of the most effective ways to boost your candidacy. A cover letter is an opportunity to make a compelling case for yourself as a candidate, totally aside from what's in your resume. After all, 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 in a way that a resume alone can't."

"Now, there are certainly some hiring managers out there who will tell you that they don't care that much about cover letters. But there are so many who do, and so many stories of a cover letter getting a candidate an interview when one otherwise wouldn't have been offered, that it's well worth your effort."

Jessica Hernandez, Expert Resume Writer, Career and Personal Branding Strategist, Author, Speaker and President/CEO of Great Resumes Fast www.greatresumesfast.com

"The question of the executive cover letter shouldn't be one so much about whether to use one or not--the question should be whether you're using a great cover letter or not. I advise clients to use a cover letter because you never know who may read it, and it may make the difference. So, don't ask yourself should you or shouldn't you--ask yourself how can you make your current cover letter better! A cover letter will be read by someone, especially if you're using it as the body of the e-mail when applying that way. So make sure that it's concise, specific, and an interesting read."