The Truth About Cover Letters (and Why You Need to Write Them)

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Cover letters…job seekers hate writing them and employers don’t always read them.

But you really should make them part of your job application, and here’s why.

Cover Letters…Why Bother?

If there’s a good chance your letter won’t be read, why bother writing one?

To get to the heart of this question, we surveyed DuPage-area HR professionals for their insights on cover letters, who reads them, and why job seekers should take the time to write them.

Who Reads Cover Letters?

According to our survey, most HR professionals really do read cover letters. In fact, over half (53 percent) said they “always” or “usually” read cover letters, with another 40 percent saying they “sometimes” read them. A mere seven percent said they “rarely” read them.

This means that 93 percent of HR people read cover letters with at least some regularity.

On the other hand, the survey found that hiring managers are somewhat less likely to read a cover letter. Thirteen percent said hiring managers “usually” read cover letters, with another 60 percent saying managers read them “sometimes.” Lastly, 27 percent said hiring managers “rarely” read them.

However, that means 73 percent of hiring manager read cover letters at least sometimes.

What Do You Say in a Cover Letter?

According to our survey, the short answer to that question is “do not simply repeat what’s on your resume.” In fact, one HR pro even said:

I like cover letters because you can get information about the candidate that typically would not be listed on the resume.

So, what kind of information might that include? The HR pros offered this advice:

Explain how your experience and/or interests specifically relate to the position, in your own words.

Write a brief summery of your background and how it makes you qualified for the position.

I look for you to name my company specifically, and show why you want to work for my company.

Explain why you feel you are qualified to apply for the position. Also, depending on the level of the position and the requirements I have put in the job ad, I may look for salary requirements. If I ask for salary requirements, I will not consider an applicant that does not include them.

I look for explanations about gaps in employment, or why you would be applying for a job that might not be aligned with your employment history.

I want to learn more about you the applicant, what you have done in your previous jobs, and what you are seeking.

I look for how well you can write, what your purpose is and why you are applying.

Explain why you are seeking to leave a current role, or notes about special circumstances.

I hope to learn any special circumstances, skills or info. I also look at spelling, grammar, and writing style.

Generic cover letters mean nothing, they need to be tailored to the company and the job.

I hope the cover letter will make me want to read your resume.

How Long Should a Cover Letter Be?

Again, the short answer is “one page or less.” In fact, that was the advice given by about half of the survey respondents. Other responses were:

No more than three short paragraphs. The applicant should not rewrite their resume in the cover letter.

Two or three paragraphs.

Fairly short: one to two short paragraphs at the most.

Not too long, just long enough to cover the basics not given in the resume.

Yes, You Should Write a Cover Letter

Cover letters are an opportunity to show an employer that you truly want the job: it shows that you’ve taken the time to think about the job, the company, and your qualifications. And it shows that you cared enough to put it into writing.

So, if you’re applying for a job, you should get started on that cover letter now!

Assistance With Your Resume and Cover Letter

Eligible job seekers in the DuPage County area can receive one-to-one resume assistance at the workNet DuPage Career Center. They may also attend our Job Search Boot Camp, a five-day series of workshops about resume writing, job interviews, and much more.

Learn More about our Job Search Services »