Cover Letter Debate: Are They Necessary in Executive Job Search?

by Meg Guiseppi on July 16, 2010

Some of my fellow careers industry professionals dismiss cover letters as an ineffective marketing tool. I don’t agree.

Although there are recruiters and hiring decision makers who will skip right over your cover letters, others read them religiously and judge candidates by them as strongly as they do their resumes and other career marketing communications.

My research and experience over the years revealed that NOT having a cover letter may ruin your chances, but HAVING a cover letter will not likely hurt your chances.

By all means, include personalized cover letters with your resume targeting each specific employer.

Besides, these days you’re probably sending your resume by email as a Word attachment, so you need something in that email message. You might as well make it a hard-hitting, brand-reinforcing message, introducing your even harder-hitting resume.

Some job search experts recommend ONLY sending highly-targeted cover letters, without a resume – something I’m hesitant about, except in certain circumstances. That strategy makes more sense than neglecting cover letters entirely.

Since it’s doubtful a cover letter will hurt them, job seekers would be wise to err on the side of caution and include customized, targeted cover letters.

At the very least, a covering letter or email message is an expected courtesy to the reader, and clarifies why you’re writing to them.

Well-written job descriptions that look like a good mutual fit are valuable resources for composing cover letters that will hit home with your target audience. Use the same keywords in your cover letters, providing specific examples of your contributions and expertise, matching their needs with your promise of value in those areas.

If the best you can do is send the same generic cover letter to every recruiter and employer hiring authority, assuming they will somehow interpret your good fit from your unfocused mishmosh, don’t bother.

A generic cover letter or one that simply rehashes the resume can have a negative impact. Your cover letter should be regarded and written as one more stand-alone career marketing piece in your brand communications plan, supporting your brand and good-fit qualities for the company.

The thrust of cover letters should vary to meet specific circumstances and compel specific readers. For instance, a cold-call letter may have a different focus and read a bit differently than a referral letter.

It all boils down to step one in launching any successful executive job search campaign – narrowing your search and knowing your target audience, then researching your target list of companies to determine their needs and how you can solve their problems.

Because you’re focusing your search in one direction, you may be able to re-use some of your cover letter messaging from one letter to the next, customizing the introductory paragraph and elsewhere as needed.

Always write to a specific person. “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madam” won’t do.

Identify the key decision makers in your target companies to whom you’ll send your letter with attached resume or other appropriate materials.

Here’s an example of a Corporate Turnaround Management Executive referral cover letter I wrote for a client, with identifying information fictionalized to protect her confidential search.

Related posts:

4 Executive Job Search First Steps, Before You Write Your Resume

Top 10 Executive Personal Branding and Job Search Trends

16 Deadly Executive Job Search Mistakes

How to Write An Irresistible C-level Executive Brand Resume in 10 Steps

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Meg Guiseppi July 19, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Thanks for commenting, Taylor.

You’re so right! Getting clarity on what you want to do next, and which employers can provide opportunities that fit, is any job seekers first step in building a search campaign. Branding, resume (and other career documents), networking, online identity building, social networking, etc., can’t be tackled effectively without first gaining that clarity.

2 Taylor Morken July 19, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Great post! Job seekers coming out of college into the competitive career world should understand the importance of direction and focus in their job search which a cover letter brings.

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