Why cover letters suck

CVs and Cover Letters

Many applicants assume recruiters read resumes and cover letters to find what skills and experiences the applicant can bring to a vacancy.  They do not!  It is easier to eliminate an applicant than to shortlist an applicant.

There could be hundreds of CV’s for one role.  The recruiter will compare the selection criteria with each CV, quickly skimming them and searching for elimination points.  It is much harder to read a text for “inclusion” or "suitability".

This is where cover letters come into their own.  The cover letter is a sales pitch that highlights why an applicant should be shortlisted for further consideration and not be excluded.

I have read tens of thousands of cover letters and most fail to impress, let alone contain the information I need.

I discussed this recently with a very seasoned HR Manager for an international shipping firm and she said “I struggle to read them”.  When I asked her why, she said, “Because they typically contain unimportant information.

What should a cover letter look like? 

A cover letter should mirror the selection criteria.  However, before that, start with the negative.  For example, what you do not have, or why you may not be suitable.  If there is a reason, you can't hide it.  Then write 'however' and list three to five reasons why you are suitable.  That is what the recruiter is looking for!

As a recruiter, make it easy for yourself the next time you advertise.  Request the candidates' list in their cover letter:

  • the top two reasons why they may not be suitable for the job; and
  • the top five reason why they may be.

Also, if asking for emailed applications, do not ask for it to be attached to avoid having to click on the attachment to read it.  Ask that the cover letter is embedded directly into the email message.  It will make screening so much easier and faster.  Time is money for all of us.

If you are using a job board and applications are uploaded directly into your job application software, ask for the cover letter to be embedded at the top of the CV.

See also:
11 Recruitment - Christian Madsen
Christian Madsen
Managing Director
11 Recruitment

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  • Assunta De Bono says:

    Thank you Christian,
    Logical really and I appreciate the article because I have been looking for the edge over the competition.
    Your advice in this article is greatly appreciated.
    Kindest regards

  • Peter Ruffell says:

    Interesting. I’ll try it. Thanks for the data.

  • Christie Russell says:

    Thanks so much!!! Yes I totally agree, how you’ve explained it makes perfect sense. I’ve taken this onboard, much appreciated

  • Marinika Poilly says:

    Wow! Never thought of it this way and it makes perfect sense!
    Thank you so much Christian!

  • Leo says:

    A really good common sense article that most applicants seeking jobs wouldn’t always consider. Thanks for the tips.

  • Shraddha Bhalsing says:

    Thank you Christian for sharing such an useful information.I am satisfied with the content of article.

    Shraddha Bhalsing

  • Sue says:

    Thank you Christian, I will try your suggestion.

    Kind Regards Sue

  • I certainly agree with all or most of your suggestions.

  • Erica says:

    Good to know what recruiters are looking for in regards to cover letters. I really struggle to write cover letters and subsequently I rarely do them.

    • Erica, most people struggle writing them, hence they usually fall flat. You can download on our homepage a pdf on how to write cover letters and I suggest you always include one.

  • Deb says:

    Christian, I often have trouble with cover letters and as such I don’t always include one. I thought maybe it was better to not write one than to write a bad one. I’ll take note of your suggestions and hopefully it will give me an advantage.

  • Cheryl Stevens says:

    This information, though valid, is in complete contradiction to advice given by the outplacement service I was registered with. I’m beginning to think everyone is looking for something different and it’s almost a coin toss as to whether you are one of the lucky few to progress.

    • Cheryl, Thanks for your comment. I can only share my experience. Yes, every job is different and every recruiter/employer recruits differently. However, they all want the best person for the job. I am not certain that tossing the coin is the answer any recruiter will give you. If you need a little be of help go you can download a free ebook on how to write effective cover letters: https://11recruitment.com.au/. Hope it helps…

  • Sonya Owen says:

    Great advice, thank you for sharing.

    • My pleasure. If you have not done it yet feel free to download our complimentary e-book on how to write great cover letters (available on our front page).

  • Neelam Shukla says:

    Thanks Christian,

    Until I read your article, it appeared to me that all was good with my CL, however, now I see why I don’t get the calls. Will be incorporating the cover letter as far as possible when applying for next opening.

  • Charmaine Tobias says:

    Your 60 second post was quite the eye-opener… thanks for bringing that to our attention Christian.

  • Gerald says:

    Great insight!

  • Chris Burgess says:

    I was trained and conducted Targeted Selections in the Police Force for applicants on promotion and am interested in this field which has very similar principles. I find your help and tips extremely educational and helpful.

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