Cover Letters: The Good, The Bad, and The Obsolete?

Writing a cover letter may just be one of the worst parts about job searching, but it can also be one of the most important steps you take in applying for an opportunity. It can often feel redundant—shouldn’t a recruiter or hiring manager be able to see your background and experience by looking at your resume?

This what I always thought to myself when writing cover letters in the past, but now that I sit on the other side of the recruiting desk I can see how wrong I was. Sure, a cover letter can be redundant if you don’t know how to write a good one. A cover letter should not just be an overview of everything on your resume. That is what your resume is for. Instead, use the cover letter as a chance to show a recruiter or hiring manager why you are the right candidate for a role, not just how your background fits the job requirements. Use your resume to list your job duties, hard skills, and professional experiences. Use your cover letter to explain your soft skills, how your hard skills translate to success, and how your experiences have shaped you to be the person you are today and what you bring to the table.

Try thinking of your cover letter as a written elevator pitch. If you were in the elevator with the CEO of your dream company, would you spend that time listing all your hard skills? (Hopefully not). No, you would use that time to explain why you want to work for their company and why they should hire you. Use your cover letter to do the same. Explain why you are a perfect match for the company, not just the role.

We’ve been talking recently here at The Ottohahn Group about how we don’t like the name “cover letter.” “Cover letter” draws up all of those negative connotations we associate with writing one, and it doesn’t seem to accurately reflect what we want to see when reading one. We tried brainstorming a new name for cover letters and kept coming back to PPI or PPO—a professional, personal introduction or professional, personal overview.

Regardless of what it is called, I think it is time to reevaluate how we write and read cover letters.