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: How to spot CV fraud

11 Recruitment - Christian Madsen - Behaviour

Christian Madsen
Managing Director
11 Recruitment

LinkedIn Profile

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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

  • pino.fucile@outlook.com says:

    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.

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