Wasted Words: A Different Kind of Cover Letter Advice – Part 1

I’d like to assume a few things you’re doing as a matter of course for this particular cover letter tips entry. Mainly that you are already: a) Keeping your cover letter free of grammatical miscues and b) Tailoring your cover letter to the specific company to which you’re applying.

There’s plenty of cover letter writing advice highlighting those best practices, on our own blog even, and they are undoubtedly important. But I want to address one specific point you’ll find on job application requirements from Colorado State University, in one form or another:

  1. Cover letter, no longer than two pages, addressing each of the required and preferred qualifications in the job announcement

I believe this is one of, if not the, most important aspects of the process that you may not see on other job descriptions you look at. Why? Because it is common for hiring managers to spend very little time reading cover letters. It’s sad, I know, because a lot of advice tells people to weave amazing stories. And those stories deserve to be read, right?

Well, maybe. But, statistically, they really aren’t.

According to a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), in a random sample of 582 human resource professionals, 83 respondents reported they spent less than one minute reading cover letters. Think about that – less than one minute. It’s taken you longer to read to this point, and that’s about 15 sentences. Worse, yet, at least for us storytellers, many companies were actually shown to spend between 1 and 30 seconds.

Interestingly, hiring managers still viewed cover letters as important. Which means they are, in effect, scanning – looking for the high points that make them actually want to read the resume. In thinking that through, what’s the most important thing a hiring manager should know, based off the cover letter, that can be communicated in roughly 30 seconds?

It’s a novel idea, but how about that the applicant can do the job they advertised for? Interestingly, that advice seems counter to a lot of tips out there. Here are a few I found in a quick search:

Great articles in their own right, and worth thinking about. But historical tidbits and more enhanced storytelling take hiring managers away from what’s important. They took the time to highlight ‘required’ and ‘preferred’ qualifications, spelling them out in a formal job description. I believe it is the applicant’s only job, at that point, to let them know how they meet those qualifications.

Highlighting this, in a recent interview, Fire Chief Randy Mirowski talked about application materials. He stated (emphasis mine), “It has to be simple, but make an impact. That’s the challenge. How do you put the effective points that an employer is looking for in one page? It’s not a standard approach. You need to communicate what features you possess and bring to the table.”

Furthering his point, when asked how a cover letter can make its way to the bottom of a pile, he continued, “If it’s just bullet points and if they are telling me all they did, but not saying how those things prepared them for the position.”

 

Are you the candidate they’re looking for? Have you communicated that effectively, or are you dancing around the issue with musings that don’t directly communicate you can fill that position. Hiring managers have created a roadmap, bullet pointing out a guide. When creating your application materials, are you addressing each point on that map? Judging by the time spent reading them, and the need for applicants to show they can do the job, I believe any words spent writing a cover letter that don’t show employers you meet required and preferred bullet point, are wasted.

We’ll look at some examples of how to do this effectively in part two of this series. For now, resumes and cover letter advice is varied, and we recognize that. Give us some of your thoughts below.

7 thoughts on “Wasted Words: A Different Kind of Cover Letter Advice – Part 1”

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  3. Getajobwithtom

    Do you really think a hiring manager is going to read a 2 page cover letter? My advice has always been for a cover letter to be not more that one page, however most important is not to include what you are about to say in your resumes in your cover letter.

  4. AmyJoMillerCSUOnlinePlus

    That’s a great question Getajobwithtom. I think length is becoming less important as long as you’re communicating the good stuff first, because like this post mentions, you have 30 seconds to one minute to grab them. Your advice on making your cover letter include different information than your resume is wonderful! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Getajobwithtom

      Do you really think I am going to read your CV for one minute? I looked through 300 CV’s today. I doubt if i spent more than 20 seconds on the ones I liked!!!

      Thank you.

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