The cover letter is often an expected attachment to the résumé, serving as an applicant’s first impression on potential employers. Traditionally, it offers job seekers an opportunity to introduce their skills and qualifications, while giving hiring managers an idea of a candidate’s suitability for the position.
But as more companies use social networks to screen candidates, many applicants are questioning whether their cover letters are still relevant. With the level of transparency in social media, what can a cover letter offer that a LinkedIn profile or Twitter stream can’t?
Opinions of the career experts interviewed for this article were split, leading us to answer the above question with “it depends.” Here’s a look at why you may not want to send a cover letter, why it could still be useful to send one, and how to optimize your approach when applying for social media and tech positions.
The Relevancy Factor
A cover letter’s value can be determined by its approach. Many hiring managers see them as increasingly unnecessary because they’re often text-heavy, unoriginal, and repeat the résumé rather than enhance it.
Mark O’Connor, staffing manager at oil company Tesoro, says he doesn’t read much into cover letters, particularly for tech jobs — but adds that it doesn’t mean applicants shouldn’t bother to send them. “They should be short functional summaries of their relevant experience,” he says.
Still, O’Connor’s team of recruiters focuses on developing relationships with candidates via social networks. From there, they’re more concerned about the details that lie within the résumé and try to hone in on a candidate’s past experience.
For MSNBC Career Columnist Eve Tahmincioglu, cover letters are even more important for social media and tech job seekers. “Today companies want tech employees who are critical thinkers, well-rounded and do more than just tech speak,” she says. “These things are hard to convey in a résumé.”
In some cases, Tahmincioglu adds, the first person to see your application is a human resources manager, who may not know much about the dense list of computer programs and technical projects on your résumé. The cover letter can be an opportunity to draw them in with a personal touch.
What Your Cover Letter Says About You
The main advantage of a cover letter is its ability to be customized. Some hiring managers see it as a way to assess your dedication to and qualifications for a specific position.
“A cover letter, especially one that is customized to the position tells me the person is actually applying for this position. This person cares enough to write something that applies — not just a blanket response of résumés to a bunch of jobs,” says Patrick Chaupham, senior vice president of digital communications at public relations agency Weber Shandwick.
In fact, it’s the lack of tailored and interesting cover letters that keeps Ryan Goff, director of social media marketing at advertising and public relations agency MGH, from reading them. “We want to be wow’ed, and the cut-and-paste cover letter will never do the trick,” he says. “Know your audience and, in doing so, give us something that would impress.”
Top Cover Letter Tips
Here are the top four cover letter tips from the career experts we interviewed:
- “Find someone, even a long-lost relative, who can refer you. There is nothing better to open doors than this cover-letter opening line: ‘So-and-so suggested I send you my résumé….’”
– Eve Tahmincioglu, MSNBC career columnist
- “Focus on your résumé. If it’s strong enough, there won’t be the need for the cover letter.”
– Ryan Goff, director of social media marketing, MGH
- “Do your homework on the company and try to connect with the recruiters.”
– Mark O’Connor, staffing manager, Tesoro
- “Be concise. Be relevant.”
– Patrick Chaupham, senior vice president of digital communications, Weber Shandwick
A cover letter is still valuable — as long as it’s done right. Like Goff said, the key is to know your audience. If you’re applying to a company that has dedicated technical recruiters spending 90% of their time on LinkedIn, connect with them there. If you’re working with a general human resources manager, use the cover letter to be relatable by showing off your personality and creativity. No matter what your approach, be clear about your passion for the particular position and/or company. Hiring managers won’t be excited about you unless you’re excited about them.
Social Media Job Listings
Every week we put out a list of social media and web job opportunities. While we post a huge range of job listings, we’ve selected some of the top social media job opportunities from the past two weeks to get you started. Happy hunting!
- Freelance Social Media and Digitial Marketing Expert at Kuhn Projects in New York, NY.
- Social Media Strategist Superstar at meebee in San Francisco, CA.
- Social Media Manager at FilmBuff in New York, NY.