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Should you always send a cover letter with your CV (résumé)?
Author : Rob Ashton
Posted : 04 / 11 / 15
One of our Emphasis 360 members has emailed to ask if it’s always necessary to write a cover letter when applying for jobs or internships. Their view is that they’ve worked hard to perfect their CV (curriculum vitae – also known as a résumé) and that it should just ‘speak for itself’.
I can see how this approach might be tempting, especially if you’re in full-on ‘job-hunting mode’ and just want to get as many CVs out there as possible. In fact, in these days of online job boards and one-click job applications, you can find yourself doing this as a default without even meaning to.
Well, easy it might be. But it’s also a mistake – and a big one.
The trouble is that your CV can never speak for itself. Why? Well, just put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re contacting for a second. If they’ve advertised a job, they could have hundreds of CVs to wade through. Most of these will be an uninspiring list of qualifications and achievements. Sure, those details might belong to the perfect person for the role, but they require a lot of interpretation. And that interpretation takes both time and mental energy, both of which the employer is almost certainly lacking.
Believe me, I know. I’m one of them.
If you’re applying for a wide range of jobs, this approach is especially dangerous. That’s because that means making your CV pretty general, so that it covers all eventualities. And in doing so, it fits no role specifically. The result? It will go straight in the reject pile.
[Want more ways to make a great first impression with your writing? Try Emphasis 360, our online business-writing training: short, interactive lessons to help transform everything you write at work. Try a lesson for free here.]
The same thing is true if you’re applying speculatively, when you don’t know if a role even exists or you want to persuade someone to take you on as an intern. In fact, you have practically zero chance of securing an interview if a speculative application consists solely of a CV.
After all, you’re interrupting someone’s busy working day. They’ve got a ton of other things to think about. What busy person would bother to invest their precious time in reading through a CV if they don’t know why they should?
No, what they need is guidance. They need indicators of how you fit the job or why you might be worth checking out. A good cover letter (or, more likely these days, a cover email) can draw them in. It can make them see that you are worth investing a few more minutes in; that it’s worth reading your CV. It also shows that you can empathise with your potential employer and their situation – something that can only help make them see you in a positive light.
Failing to write a cover letter is a false economy. It may well enable you to fire out a lot more applications, but they’ll almost certainly all be wasted.
But there is good news. And that good news is that you’ll immediately raise yourself above the rest of the pack if you take the trouble to write one. Setting down why you’re interested in and suited to a role kick-starts a vital process. It draws the employer’s attention to your qualities and matches them to what they’re looking for. It sets in progress a train of thought in their mind that may well result in calling you in for interview and, ultimately, a job offer.
In fact, just writing a cover letter alone may well be enough to get you in the ‘take a closer look’ pile.
It really is well worth the effort.
Image credit: Death to the Stock Photo
Rob is a former scientist who set up Emphasis in 1998 after a career in magazine and journal editing. He designed the document analysis that underpins all our courses and believes training should always be based on evidence, not pseudoscience or wishful thinking. His writing has been featured in the Guardian and The Telegraph, as well as specialist publications including Accountancy Age, Training Journal and Nursing Standard. He's also a member of the Association of British Science Writers.
He's currently working on a new book about the science of the words we write and the effects they have on all of us.
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