Major Controversy – Why Bother Sending a Cover Letter?

Do let box checking your resume prevent you from getting interviews

There is a raging debate in many LinkedIn Professional and Networking Groups, on our own LinkedIn Job Search Discussion Group, hundreds of emails we’ve been sent, numerous blog comments, and an overwhelming number of tweets – all related to our last blog posting – “Pet Peeve – Your Resume and Cover Letter.”

Obviously, a few people have strong opinions on this subject.

Let’s review the debate:

We recommend you customize both your resume and cover letter for the specific job you are applying for.

Arguments for doing a cover letter and/or custom resume:

  • Employers and recruiters consider it disrespectful if you do not include a cover letter or resume
  • Employers and recruiters are looking for a reason to exclude you from consideration if you do not match up with their criteria. The custom resume or letter specifically addresses the key points in the job posting.
  • Employers and recruiters are overwhelmed in this poor job market with hundreds, if not thousands, of job applications per opening. They want to see an “extra effort” by applicants rather than a cookie-cutter shotgun scattered approach to applying for jobs.
  • Vast majority of job responses fall into the “Hot Potato” Method of applying for an opening.
  • The bland generic information in most resumes DO NOT give a recruiter or hiring manager enough information to decide whether or NOT to extend an interview invitation.

Arguments for NOT doing a cover letter and/or custom resume:

  • Low response rate from recruiters and employers – what’s the use. Even if I did one, the investment of time wouldn’t justify an improved outcome.
  • It takes too much time, is way too hard, and requires far too much effort.
  • Recruiters and Employers don’t read resumes or cover letters deeply enough, so why even bother?
  • It’s all a numbers game – the goal is to broadcast as many resumes to jobs I’m remotely qualified for, and maybe something will stick. I’m overwhelmed applying to jobs – no time to customize my response to each job posting.
  • Recruiters and Employers don’t provide enough information in their job postings to customize the cover letter and resume. They don’t list the important elements of the job or they have a laundry list of criteria that superman/superwoman couldn’t meet.
  • Recruiters and Employers are doing nothing more than box-checking resumes – a custom cover letter and resume will not help in this process of asking for everything under the sun and eliminating candidates if they don’t have one little inconsequential element checked-off.
  • Recruiters and Employers are using low level unskilled and untrained clerical staff to review resumes. Not possible for this level of person to accurately judge the resume of a managerial or executive candidate. Custom cover letters and resumes will NOT help (see bullet point about box-checking above).

Have I missed any of the arguments from each side? These would comprise over 90% of the responses to our last blog posting.

So, what to do from this point forward?

In my ever so humble opinion, I am going to stick by the perspective that for management and executive positions, a detailed cover letter should be written specifically addressing the top 3 points identified in the job posting and a custom resume should be submitted. If you don’t have the time to customize your resume, then at least have 3-4 versions of it and submit the one that matches up most closely with comparable accomplishments for the level of the job, the industry segment, or the common core success factor of that position.

We’re open to hearing from you as to your experience in this job market if you’ve really tried the custom approach. If you’ve not tried it yet, please don’t knock it. Test it and play with it. This strategy is but one of the many we recommend in our Career Success Methodology®. We’ve discovered that most job seekers at a managerial and executive level DO NOT conduct an effective job search. Implementing a few best practices in a structured framework can make an enormous difference in reducing the time it takes to find a great opportunity.

As a special offer to our job search community which includes:

Managerial and executive candidates who read our blog

Following us on Twitter

Participating in our LinkedIn Job Search Discussion Group

Following us through our discussions in a variety of LinkedIn Groups

You’ve downloaded our FREE Job Search tools and content

You’ve attended one of our webinars

You’ve bought one of our job search products

You’ve engaged us in one of our Job Search Coaching Services

We are offering a deep appreciation discount on our upcoming Webinar about resumes and cover letters this Friday January 29th, titled:



This offer of over 50% off the public quoted fee is a special one-time appreciation offer for our job search community and is available only to a selected group – such as our loyal blog readers.

Click here to join the webinar

Please don’t be mad at us for making this offer.

We also have to make a living. It’s very hard to be successful by constantly giving away free tools, templates, audio programs, examples, illustrations, responding to requests for help, and responding to hundreds of comments on our blog and within LinkedIn. We are both trying to build a successful business around effective job search and hiring top talent.

Sometimes, we’re going to make special offers to our job search community for products, services, subscriptions, and webinars. Don’t hold it against us.

If the content was crap – then you can complain. However, Brad and I believe we provide some of the very best content on the Internet for job search and hiring. As many of you know, we give away an extraordinary amount of information in solid tactical tools to improve your job search – maybe to a fault.

We believe the best way to build a loyal following is to give away a lot of our content and as a consequence many job seekers or hiring managers who have found the information useful will move to investing a few dollars in our professional products or services.

Brad and I would like to extend a big thank you of appreciation to all our loyal fans and readers.

Barry Deutsch

PS – The coupon discount you’ll find on the webinar page is only good for the first 50 who register. After that, the price reverts back to our standard pricing for this webinar. Oops – I forgot to mention – the special offer webinar for you includes a number of EXTRA items that doubles the value of the webinar. You couldn’t find this much content about cover letters and resumes in one place if you searched for days.

About the Author

Barry Deutsch is a founding Partner of IMPACT Hiring Solutions, co-author of "You're NOT the Person I Hired", and "This is NOT the Position I Accepted". Barry is an award-winning international speaker, retained executive recruiter, and expert on hiring and retaining top talent, and executive job search.


  • By Mark Olson, January 25, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

    I believe that a well-written short, but succint cover letter is better than no cover letter. This is your opportunity to highlight your skill set and the relevant bullet points of your resume targeted for that position that will make it easier for the recruiter and hiring manager to make a decision on you.

    I have heard that many recruiters don’t read them, but I would rather err on the use of a cover letter than not. At least you haven’t eliminated yourself because you failed to write a cover letter.

  • By David Tompos, January 25, 2010 @ 8:41 pm

    The counsel and advice varies regarding cover letters. Many of the HR professionals / recruiters in our networking group say they never even read the cover letters. If you want to do one, keep it short (no more than 3 paragraphs) and concise.

  • By nyert, January 25, 2010 @ 11:53 pm

    Several times this web site has posted articles that say recruiters don’t read cover letters, yet here we are saying cover letters are important again! No wonder you’re getting so many “useless” responses – you’ve totally confused candidates about what you want!

    For the record, I customize most resumes AND cover letters. I make sure to answer the job requirements, and I do not answer jobs that I am not qualified for. Yet, response is no better than when I send a generic resume and cover letter. After claiming to customize, why do I also send out generics? I send generics to vague advertisements that don’t provide enough information. Actually, I try every trick I read about, even the contradictory ones. Yet, response is almost zero to any of them. So what do recruiters really want? Candidates who can read their minds?

  • By Anonymous, January 26, 2010 @ 12:09 am

    I think your list of reasons NOT to write the cover letter is pretty comprehensive, but I don’t think you’re trying hard enough to see this from the perspective of someone who’s been on the job hunt for months.

    I’m sure it was frustrating for you to receive so many applications that didn’t follow instructions, and I sympathize with having to deal with idiocy on a regular basis. However, I’ve been on the job search for 6 months now, and it’s nightmarish. Not only is this the worst economy for job seekers since the Great Depression, but even the most well-crafted and thoughtful cover letters receive no response more than 90% of the time (I would venture to put it as high as 95%, but that’s my experience.) Imagine what you’re advocating — a good cover letter takes about an hour to write and proof, so even if you’re working an entire day, you may only get three or four applications out (when you factor in the other application requirements that many job postings request.)

    Of those fifteen you might get out in a week, you’re competing with thousands of other people for each position. What’s the chance that you’re going to get an interview with any of them, especially if the others applying come from better schools (I graduated from a very good, top-tier school by any measure, but not one that commands the kind of prestige that a Harvard or Princeton grad might.)

    The truth is, after spending months applying for these positions I got three interviews, two for jobs I didn’t love and didn’t particularly want. The third was for a position that I liked, but lost out to someone from a better school. It’s like a caste system.

    The truth of the matter is, networking is the only way to do it. Developing good verbal communicative skills is the best use of your time, and I found that I made the same amount of progress in two weeks of networking that I did in six months of online job applications.

    Furthermore, I understand that you’re confused about people applying without following the specific instructions you provided, but frankly, you’re talking to people who have been doing this day in day out for months on end. It’s one of the most demoralizing processes in the world to apply over and over again for positions you know you’re qualified for only to be ignored every time (most employers won’t even dignify you with an automated “got your resume” response.) Employers, as a group, come off as callous bastards who feel entitled to their pick of the litter, and oftentimes their metrics are completely irrelevant for choosing who would be best at the job. For you to expect these people to jump for joy at the opportunity you’re dangling in front of them like table scraps for a dog is ridiculous and totally unrealistic. It’s a recession, and these people are desperate. If you don’t take the time to show them any respect, they’re not going to wait around for you to acknowledge them.

    I’m sorry if this got heated, but it irritates the hell out of me to hear someone with a job and financial security moaning and whining about how difficult this job market is when every job post has thousands of people jockeying for it. It’s pretty clear who’s having a tougher time of this economy.

  • By Bonnie, January 26, 2010 @ 3:27 pm

    I share your view in this post and the previous one you’re following up on, Barry. With the job market still in the toilet, it amazes me that job seekers are NOT doing everything they can to get selected for an interview.

    “It takes too much time”!? “It’s not worth it”!? Who ARE these people?

    Seriously… I would be interested to know if there’s a generational correlation here. Baby Boomers appear to be more willing to work very hard to EARN what they get, while Gen X/Gen Y appear to expect to be GIVEN what they want.

    I realize that’s a stereotype & generalization, but I’d be willing to bet that the 10% who DO prepare customized cover letters and resumes are more “mature” (and certainly more successful) than those who do not.

  • By Frustrated Job Seeker, January 26, 2010 @ 8:06 pm

    One HUGE thing the article simply passes over for some reason is the use of COMPUTER SCREENING in the job search process. I dare say it’s probably around 400 to 1 on resumes received and actually seen by a human. Filters are weak and usually ill-defined, but it will throw out many people. I was told recently I did not meet the minimum qualifications for a post. I had done that job for 5 yrs! But the hiring manager was narrow in his definition of who could possibly do the job and I was filtered out. There I was on the outside.

    But wait, here’s the real reason you don’t use cover letters on posts – because you should be networking instead! Now, if a networking buddy offers to personally deliver something to the hiring manger, there’s a custom cover letter involved.

    To the original post though, why do we even have recruiters now? Seriously, it’s 10-20% un-/under- employment out there, you can throw a rock and find someone to do the job. More importantly, why aren’t hiring mangers just asking people around the company who they would recommend?!

    Baffled at how we continue to make things harder than they need to be.

  • By Shirley Clawson, February 1, 2010 @ 11:38 am

    Definitely send a SHORT cover letter (or “cover email”) if the job is going to require you communicate via email at all. With the majority of communication being done in writing (email, blogs, twitter, etc., etc.) you must demonstrate that you can compose a coherant message — and spell. The basics matter – and you’re going to be evaluated on these whether you like it or not.

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