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September 14, 2015

Is it time to trash the cover letter?

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Sponsored: How to write a cover letter that gets noticed

Most job seekers spend hours creating their resumes and cover letters, searching through job postings, reviewing classified ads and networking--all in order to land the job interview. Yet 99% of them don't have a clue what to do when they get one.

There's a little known "secret career document" you can quickly and easily customize for your next important job interview that literally forces the interviewer to picture you filling the position. This powerful technique was created by one of California's top marketing professionals. His method guarantees you'll automatically stand out from the crowd and shoot straight to the top of the "must hire" list for any position you seek. To get hired faster, check out this video.

Is it time to trash the cover letter?

Michelle V. Rafter, Business Journalist

The short answer is No, not always.

For decades, the resume and cover letter were inseparable, the dynamic duo of job hunting. However, as companies switch to online applications and applicant tracking systems, it's eliminating the need for job seekers to submit a cover letter along with a resume.

But it's not an across-the-board phenomenon.

Cover letters are still required for certain positions, especially for management and executive-level jobs, and for certain companies and fields.

If you're applying for a manager position and are not working with an executive recruiter, it's "absolutely critical" to have a cover letter to package yourself, said Jonathan Tedesco, San Diego-based head of energy industry recruiting for Futurestep, a division of Korn/Ferry Co.

In those cases, a cover letter creates a quick snapshot of what someone brings to a particular role. "Ideally, it ALSO creates a connection with the person" receiving and evaluating it, Tedesco said.

For jobs that Do require a cover letter

If you're applying for a job where a cover letter is still appropriate, limit what you write to a few paragraphs. Typically, a cover letter consists of the following:

  • The name of the person you're writing to, not "To Whom it May Concern," or "Dear Sir or Madam." It may take some digging, but personalizing the letter is another way to help you stand out.
  • An opening that reminds the person of your connection, if you have one. This is your chance to remind them that you met at a job fair, were recommended by a college friend who works at the organization, or are connected on LinkedIn. If you're following up at their request, mention that too.
  • A brief explanation of the position you're interested in, and why you're the right person for the job. A common cover letter mistake is including too much information about why a job is good for the job hunter, and not enough about what they could do to help the company's bottom line.
  • A paragraph listing three to seven accomplishments, results or areas of expertise and how they match the job requirements.
  • A closing paragraph that invites the company contact to take some kind of action. If you're contacting the company for the first time, you might close by asking for a phone or Skype interview. If you've talked before, you might close by asking for an in-person interview.
Leave out personal information. Explain aspects of work history, such as an employment gap. Don't ask for a specific salary, or make other work-related demands. The purpose of the document is to explain what you can do for the company, not vice versa.

For jobs that don't require a cover letter

If you're filling out an online application, spend extra time making sure the words you include match keywords in the company's job description. Those keywords are picked up by application tracking software, which are programmed to pick up keywords, niche skills and experience that match the open positions being filled.

When filling out an online application, look for a question such as "What haven't we asked about your skills, knowledge or experience that you think is important to share?" That's your cue to use the space to write about your background, ability or skills that make you uniquely qualified for the position -- in other words, the kind of information you would have put in a cover letter.

If a company likes your resume enough to ask for a phone or video interview, use the call to share more details about yourself that you would have included in a cover letter. Those details could include how you found out about the job, employees at the company you know who could vouch for you, and anything else that could set you apart.

If you're creating a video resume, use it to add details that you would have put in a cover letter. But keep it as professional looking as your resume. This helps the hiring manager narrow and prioritize which candidate they'd like to interview first.

Michelle V. Rafter is a freelance writer and business journalist covering work, tech and finance for consumer and business publications, and managing editorial projects for online publishers and other organizations. To learn more about Michelle, visit her website.

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