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Why cover letters gets a bad rap, and they shouldn’t!

cover letter

For job searches and dating, we match our response to the individual ad

Cover letters

Get a bad rap. It’s unfortunate because I would say that most of the folks that are hired include cover letters. Don’t get me wrong, I throw out a lot of cover letters. It isn’t because of a rule that states “Cover Letters are never read, so don’t write a cover letter”. That rule is a lie, don’t listen to the haters. 

I make it a rule to NOT read cover letters which list skills irrelevant to the job posting, use the phrase “I am perfect for the job” or fill an entire page. That is the gospel. 

The cover letter does not land a job offer

No candidate was ever offered a job based on the cover letter so let’s start with the following premise.

The cover letter is not a resume and it is not going to land us a job offer. The cover letter is the introductory announcement that gets the hiring manager excited to read the resume. It is not a narrative of the resume. FULL STOP.

Based on the 1000’s of cover letters and resumes I have read over the years, I am convinced that most candidates create their cover letters and resumes with the wrong goal in mind. I know for a fact that most of these documents are not accomplishing what they set out to do because after reading most of them, I am NOT interested in reading the resume. Honestly, I get bored, pissed or both.

Pattern recognition in the cover letter

A lot of readers are thinking I am on my high horse and I get that. After reading 5 – 10 cover letters a few patterns start to surface. I am going to share those patterns with you so you don’t fall into the trap and YOU CAN write a compelling cover letter. 

The number 1 goal of the cover letter is to tease the reader so they are interested in the resume. The cover letters should not be lengthy. 

When was the last time you proofed a cover letter or resume for a friend and were given the job posting for the targeted position? I bet it has never happened. It is tough to proof a cover letter if we don’t know the desired position. 

So, let me put it into terms we all understand. Even if we are not dating, we understand the concept of attracting a potential +1. 

Requisite dating analogy

SWF: Single woman looking for a +1.  Attractive, has a healthy relationship with daddy and is a professional. She posts a dating ad on the dating site of the month and waits for the responses to roll in.

Recruiter: The recruiter is looking to fill a position. She works for a company with a great brand and good benefits. Our recruiter posts a job description on and waits for the responses to roll in.


Hiring manager and recruiter work together

SWF and BFF: This is not hot – single woman’s first rodeo. SWF knows what she is looking for. She worked with her BFF to put the ad together and they didn’t just bang something out in two minutes. They agonized over the phrasing and the words were chosen. They both have a specific vision of Mr. Right. (Like, OMG, I am not high maintenance. I can’t help it if I happen to know what I want and have high standards. Fer reals though!) Yes, the headshot got a LOT OF RESPONSES.

Recruiter and Hiring Manager: This is not the recruiters first rodeo. The recruiter and hiring manager know exactly what they are looking for because they pitched the position and skill set to their VP and requested a specific budget. They worked together on a job description. Because the company is a well-known brand, the recruiter received A LOT OF RESPONSES. 


The Candidate

SWF: Our single woman is hot, has a great sense of style, and a headshot that shows she knows how to have fun. Her inbox is flooded with responses.

Recruiter: Our recruiter wrote an interesting ad that talks about a great company culture, opportunity for growth and a cool product. Her inbox is flooded with responses.


Job Posting

SWF: Single Male comes along and responds to the SWF dating ad. He sends an email and attaches his own headshot showing he knows how to have fun. 

Recruiter: Unemployed Candidate is interested in the posted job and responds to an email. His email contains his cover letter and attached resume. 


Overwhelmed by the number of responses

SWF: Because a hot single woman has more responses than she can handle, she is NOT able to read each response line by line. She reads the first half-dozen, but soon sees a pattern. Within the first three lines, she knows if she is interested or not. If she is interested, she reads on. If she isn’t interested, round file.  

Recruiter: Because the recruiter has more responses than she can handle, she will only sift through the responses. She doesn’t read each and every response line by line. She knows within the first three lines if she has a qualified candidate, or not. Some candidates apply without a cover letter and she thinks:

  • “What! No cover letter? This is Acme Publishing dammit, we made Best Place to Work 3 years running”
  • “I guess this candidate was just too lazy for a cover letter, his loss not mine.”
  • “So special that your resume speaks for itself? I see Johnny Candidate sent me a cover letter. Hmm, extra points for him”


Is there a match emotionally and mentally?

SWF: After reading the first three lines of the response, hot single female forms an opinion and a mental picture of the potential suitor. Misspelled words just keep Single Guy single. SWF talked about Yoga, red wine and walks along the beach. If Single Guy talks about Football tailgating and NASCAR, we just don’t have a fit, people. No need to read further.    

Recruiter: After reading the first three lines of the response the recruiter/hiring manger has formed an opinion on our unemployed candidate. If the position is for a bank teller and we are talking about our experience as a chef, plumber, product manager or real estate agent the search continues. Our recruiter is looking for a bank teller or an accounting major. 


Mindset when there is a match

SWF: If the response was interesting and relevant, hot single girl reads the entire email and is getting excited about opening the attached photo. The email uses proper grammar so she is hopeful our potential Mr. Right paid attention in school and has half a brain. He isn’t vulgar so she imagines he is a gentleman. Single guy lets her know that he has future goals and she can already see herself making a life with him.  She is hoping that she is in the suitors league. If he talks about how he is into physical fitness and enjoys Red wine all the better.  She is getting tingly.

Recruiter: The absence of misspelled words, proper business letter format, and bulleted accomplishments will make the email easy to read. After reading the first three lines of the response, the recruiter/hiring manager is already hopeful about us as a candidate. Yes, we may have a player! I hope I can afford this candidate and yes getting tingly.

Give em’ what they are looking for

If we want the resume reviewed with intent, we need to write a purposeful cover letter. When the online dating ad is looking for Yoga and Red wine, you respond with Downward Dog and Burgundy. If you don’t want a response, list Yogi Berra and Red Bull in your cover letter.

  1. A great resume will be less effective is the reader is distracted because of the cover letter.
  2. A strong cover letter will put the hiring manager in a very different mood for the resume that will follow.
  3. Candidates who don’t send in a cover letter are quickly compared to candidates who did send in a cover letter.

Cover letter template

Think bad appetizer, bad foreplay, and uninspiring movie trailer. What are we mentally and emotionally expecting after all three? Bad, Bad and Uninspiring. For a cover letter format that is simple to write and effective, see my earlier post here and here    

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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