I have often been heard to say that job leads have no value. That’s why we share them. It’s not that they have NO value, it is just that their value is limited to you as an individual (you have to be a perfect fit) and that their shelf life is extraordinarily short.
I would also argue that to a very great degree, your resume stands alone. By this I mean that it provides the primary tool by which you are going to be evaluated. Others may disagree, but I read resumes first and cover letters second. If you are going to win the day, the key elements in the requirements shown in any job posting should be on your resume. If the job specification calls for knowledge of QuickBooks or any other specific program, you might want to take a second and ensure that those words appear somewhere on your resume.
I have also been heard to argue that networking is where it’s at. Anyone conducting a passive job search who is only answering job ads is going to be seeking new opportunities a lot longer than someone who is only networking.
All of the above notwithstanding, cover letters in the form of email with your resume attached can form an important link between the job specification and your resume. There are from time to time important issues raised in job specifications that are not easily incorporated into your resume. The most obvious issue is when it says local candidates only. Here is an obvious time when you need to tell a potential employer that you grew up in that area, went to school in that area or have relatives there. If you remain silent in a circumstance like that, you lose.
Like your 90-second announcement, there is no strict formula for what needs to be in your cover letter, except that it needs to address the issues raised in the job’s requirements that may not be obvious from reading your resume. Everyone needs to easily understand that your credentials are a perfect match for the job in question. If you are going to leave it to their imagination or hope that they will call you to find out, you are dreaming.
There are several very important issues in matching candidates to open positions. Location is one that I have already covered. I hope you will take to heart the need to address this in your cover letter if you aren’t local.
Another issue is industry experience. If you have taken the time to review some of the model resumes out on our website, you will find that all of them “define” the companies where our contributing member has worked. While it may be true that “most” people will recognize the names of your valued former employers and know their industries, there are a lot of folks who were “born yesterday” and won’t. Most of those folks at the bottom of the totem pole do initial screening. You can make your resume better by providing this information. But, even if you have taken this step and by all accounts have a masterpiece of a resume, when the analogy isn’t clear you should take the time to educate your reader. Sure, I might say “duh,” but why take a chance?
The last item I will address tonight about cover letters is the need to provide something about your salary requirements. I won’t try to top John Lucht’s (Rites of Passage) at length discussion on this topic as that would be redundant. Whatever weasel words you want to use about your compensation history, if it has been requested in the job posting, and it usually is, you are doing yourself a disservice by not providing SOMETHING.
I once heard someone say: “First liar never stands a chance.” It is true that if a company posts a salary range, most applicants want the highest number. This is why you often hear weasel words like “competitive salary.” What the heck does that mean? Someone has to go first, and I suggest to all the search professionals to whom I speak that if they want to get the best possible result, they need to suggest an appropriate salary range. Job seekers generally don’t know from a quick reading what the job may pay. My argument is “money talks.”
The same thing is true on your side. If you have earned outrageous sums of money in years past and are applying for a job at that level, you might want to let them know. And, it isn’t something appropriate for a resume.
I would also not suggest to you that each and every job lead to which you respond needs to have a totally original cover letter written for it. The wise use of boilerplate has served the legal profession well in much the same way we start with old spreadsheets to build new ones. It simply saves a lot of time and ensures we don’t leave anything out.
If you are going to be casual about your job search and breeze through our newsletter and other resources for leads, clicking and shooting to beat the band, never writing a proper cover letter to go with your valued credentials, I must say to you: Why bother?
You may as well send your resume to yourself because no one is going to take it as seriously as one sent by someone who cares who may in actuality be LESS qualified than you are.
I have a philosophy about the work I do. Everything that leaves my desk has to be perfect. This is one more way you can let others know you feel the same.