Cover letters and references: Do recruiters really need them?
So you made a big move and want to change your career or find a new job you could be proud of. You stockpiled your courage, updated your CV, came up with a bunch of witty answers to potential questions of an imaginary recruiter, and then this happened… You found yourself in a dim-lit room staring at the monitor of your laptop and wondering if you needed a cover letter. Is writing it worth the time spent? Will anyone - at least one person - read brilliant passages and wordplay that are in the file you call your cover letter?
If you want a short answer, then no.
If you want a longer one, then yes.
And yes - you’ve read that right. But there’s nothing esoteric about it.
A cover letter is the last resort for recruiters and employers. When they pick a shortlist of candidates and want to narrow it down to - let’s say - a reasonable number of applicants, they read the cover letter to see what’s behind the person’s motivation, how serious the candidate takes the opportunity, and what they actually think about working for the company.
Since only a few contenders make it to the shortlist, recruiters read only a small number of cover letters. On the bright side, if you put some back into writing your cover letter, you can score an extra point - or two - in the race for the job you want (if you make it to the shortlist). Who would not want some advantage?
With that being out of the way, let’s get down to the bottom of the cover letter writing business and take another step - even a little one - to the cherished goal of getting that sweet-sweet job.
Don’t think about if anyone will read it - Your cover letter is your extra support. Even if it is read only in case you make it to the Top 5, write like you are already there. You are shooting to score, so don’t take chances and make your best shot.
Give your reasons - Why have you chosen their company? Is there anything they can give you to help you get where you want to professionally? Write about it. Motivation is attractive, knowing your goals is even more. For a change, add some passion to show you are really interested. Even REALLY interested.
Don’t copy-paste - Just don’t. There might be a temptation to cut a corner and save some time, but it won’t serve you right. First, recruiters literally earn their money by reading resumes, cover letters, and references. They are pros at it! They know all ins and outs by heart. Imagine trying to upstage LeBron James at basketball or Lionel Messi at football? With recruiters, it’s the same when we talk about the job search. They’ve seen it all, don’t be lazy, or you’d strike yourself out.
No BS! - This one is kind of obvious, but we don’t take chances, remember? Please, don’t paint a picture that’s better than it actually is. Rather sooner than later, the forger will be brought out into the open, and it will not be a very pleasant moment for everyone.
Make it short - Some ancient dude said, ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’, and you should stick to the wise man’s rule. All you need is 5-10 well-shaped sentences to tell the most important things about you wanting that job. Have mercy for recruiters and don’t make them read walls of text (they won’t anyway, and they don’t have to).
Okay, cover letters help, but what about references? Do hiring managers need them at some point?
The short answer is… Well, you get it.
Your references will be thoroughly run through and checked out right after you pass your job interview. Recruiters and - to an even greater degree - recruiting agencies want to be confident about ‘selling’ the right employees to their clients. To get there, they must check, check, check, and check once again.
If you are not sure when it is the best moment to provide references, have them at hand and wait for a recruiter or an employer to advise you on that.
Now you may be wondering what you should add to your professional reference list to ace the last stage of the process. We are here to help, so read on.
First of all, ask the permission of each of your references. It’s common courtesy. Plus, you don’t want the person who’s supposed to say good things about you to be surprised when they are approached. Even less than that, you want them not to remember who you are. It would not look good!
Give full contact information. You want it to go smoothly so help recruiters help you. They would appreciate it if you make their job a bit easier by providing all the necessary information on how your references could be reached.
Include at least 3 names into your reference list. There’s no guarantee recruiters will contact all of them, but at least they will have a choice. It needs no saying that all the persons on the list should be able to attest to your professional abilities.
Now when you are all set - go for it! There is your dream job waiting for you, all you have to do is get it.