cover letter

The Cover Letter Debate

The cover letter debate rages endlessly. But do you ever wonder about  these lists issued by career pundits?

I do!

We seem to like lists. You must have seen them. 10 ways to write a perfect CV. 20 job search tips. 10 things not to do in an interview. 15 things to do in an interview. 12 ways to stay positive. They seem to give our lives structure in so many different ways and help us feel in control. Of course, when we feel in control – we feel secure.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m no different! I love lists.

But sometimes I wonder if sticking to lists, stops us thinking for ourselves.

We stop trusting our instincts and fail to respond creatively.

The rules are gone

One of my observations about job search strategies over recent years is that there are no long-term hard and fast rules and procedures any more. Any structures and systems seem to exist for a short time only, before we need another set of rules to deal with them.

This is just one example. I read an article the other day, about sending cover letters with CVs. A small thing. STOP using them it exhorted in Tahoma 42. Never send them. Waste of time and energy. This communication went out globally. There was a strong implication that life, as it was known to that point, would be positively overturned by a flood of interview opportunities.

My immediate thought was – yes! Great advice. Totally true! Of course, it will get peeled away by some word recognition recruitment software, the second your CV is downloaded by an HR assistant or hits an internet job site.  Hiring managers claim they rarely see cover letters. If you’re applying for a job, say, as a Product Manager with an international conglomerate, headquartered in London, New York, Paris, or Sydney with highly automated recruitment processes, the chances of that happening are almost 100%. So, absolutely right, save your time and energy for other things. Enjoy your great, new, interview filled life.


But then I thought. Hang on! Wait a minute! What if you are approaching a small or medium-sized business, perhaps in your home town, which might be Stratford (US or UK), Grenoble or Gannons Creek? You might know several key managers, which actually gives you some leverage. So would it still be wise to do that?

What if you’re contacting a CEO, or senior manager, of any organisation, anywhere at all and had been referred by a mutual connection? Would ditching a cover letter under those circumstances be good advice? What if your CV is in English and the reader might not be Anglophone? Could including a cover letter in another langauge help?

What if a cover letter is requested – would it be wise to ignore the instruction? No absolutely not.

Cover letters can be key

My answer in these cases is categorically, a cover letter might turn out to be key. You have connections. You might be/are in the same network, professional or social. You might have a qualified referral. They might know your current employer, your aunt, a teacher, a golf buddy – or even you! So not to send a cover letter might not only be construed as being rude, but it would definitely be under utilising the opportunity to maximise your personal connections, to sell yourself and your obvious talents and experience. You might be able to demonstrate foreign language skills.  You need to show you can follow a basic process.

So what do we learn? Yes, there are indeed some, perhaps many, occasions where not to use a cover letter will save you time and energy. But there are also times when a cover letter will be extremely helpful. You will still need to customize your CV and in case it does get peeled away or not passed on to the hiring manager, never put any information in your cover letter that isn’t in your resume.


In general a cover letter should address the pain or opportunity points in the job ad. They are usually the first three to four points mentioned. In general they should be about 250 words maximum, although organisations such as the European Institutions welcome longer versions.

  • Grabber opening:  this should be your UVP as it applies to this particular opening.
  • Para 2: address pain point 1 in the ad with a short success story and transferable skills.
  • Para 3:  address pain point 2 in the ad with a short success story and transferable skills
  • Para 4: address pain point 3 in the ad with a short success story and transferable skills
  • Close: convey enthusiasm and ask about next steps and mention any specific issues (going on holiday, travelling etc.)

Unique opportunity

So although there might be broad underlying patterns and trends in some areas, each opportunity and relationship is unique and should be considered as such. Circumstances vary and each job application requires a flexible and different approach. So you need to be prepared to tweak your basic CV and orientate it towards each opportunity, with or without, a cover letter. Only you can decide. Does that make your life easier? No, of course not. That would be too simple. It means you have to assess each organisation and opportunity, research them and make a judgement call!

“Then take responsibility and make a strategic decision.

Isn’t that control?

If you need help with your career transition get in touch now! 

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