Cover Letters—How Important are They?

by Greg Faherty, CPRW
While I haven’t done an official survey, I’d have to estimate that between fifty and sixty percent of my clients ask me if they need a cover letter, or tell me that they don’t want to purchase one because they can write a short note themselves.

For these clients I always have an analogy prepared, where I tell them they should think of their resume and cover letter as two parts of a marketing pamphlet or business card. Would they give someone a business card with no contact information? Would they send out a marketing brochure with no information describing what the product is? Of course not!

Then I explain how sending out a professional resume without a matching cover letter is like sending out only half a business card. The complete package is much more effective in producing resumes.

Studies have shown that 50% of hiring managers and human resource representatives do not read cover letters. That’s an awfully high number, which first glance would seem to support the idea that people don’t need to send along a professional cover letter.

But here’s the important second fact: the other 50% say they consider the cover letter a piece of information, and tend not to interview applicants who don’t send one, or who send a poorly-written one.

The cover letter is frequently the first piece of communication a hiring manager has with an applicant. Poor grammar, typos, lack of standard business letter format, and confusing or vague information can influence how a hiring manager feels about an applicant, and actually prevent a resume from being read.

A professionally-written letter demonstrates the applicant has taken the time to do the best job possible in obtaining an interview, a trait which indicates that person will probably also go out of their way to do a better-than-average job if hired.

To summarize, the key points for using a cover letter are:

1.  A professional cover letter increases the number of interviews received.

2.  Well-written cover letters help the applicant stand out by showcasing particular strengths, and can be customized to match individual job descriptions.

3.  Professional cover letters match the tone and style of the resume, indicate that the applicant is knowledgeable of professional business practices, and demonstrate good work habits.