Recently I came across a very well written and formatted resume. And the cover
letter was extremely detailed. But when I looked at the job description the
person was applying for, I knew that, from a recruiter’s perspective, the person
would never be considered.

Where was the problem?

The problem was that the resume was “generic” and the cover letter was
tailored. It was the cover letter that had all the important details pertaining
to the job description. Unfortunately, since most likely the cover letter was
never read, the person was never invited to the interview.

There is a lot of advice about tailoring your cover letter, as supposedly it
explains your resume.

This made sense in the time of snail mail.

Think about it.

When you first open an envelope, from anyone…naturally, you always read the
letter first.

Today, you don’t send letters to apply for a job; you submit
your application on line.

Technology has sped up all the processes. If, say
20 years ago, a recruiter posted a job, it would take him or her, by regular
mail, a few days, if not weeks, to receive applications from many

Today, recruiters can receive hundreds of resumes in a matter of days. I know
I did.

Recruiters have only short time to screen all applicants. That’s why
they go directly to the source of candidates’ skills and experience. Which is
your resume.

And the logic goes like this…

If the person does not have the required skills, why bother reading their
cover letter.

If they do have the skills…I don’t need to read the cover

These days, the cover letter has simply turned into a polite gesture. It
certainly should be well written, in case someone reads it. But don’t focus on
it too much. Double check that it is properly dated and addressed and that it
mentions the right position and company. But the actual content can be
relatively formal and generic. In 3 paragraphs explain why you are suitable for
the position and highlight some key strengths. But it will not make it or break
it your chances for getting an interview in the corporate world.

On the other
hand, if your RESUME does not list what the recruiter is looking for, THAT will
break your chances of getting invited to an interview. Even if you have a
beautifully detailed cover letter.

So what should you do now?

When you apply on line, if you are in a rush, don’t worry about the cover
letter. If you want to include a personal note, it’s better to write a quick
email accompanying your resume attachment. If you are applying on-line, you can
paste the same note into the cover letter window. Keep it short and

The most important thing in your job application is your resume, not
the cover letter. It’s the same thing as a “must have” and “nice to have”. Make
sure that your “must have” (your resume) stands out.

(Of course, I am speaking mostly of the corporate world. If you’re applying
to a job in academia, or the medical or legal field, or anywhere where the
hiring is done by committee, the cover letter plays a much larger role.)

Marina Gapeenkova, CHRP, HR and Recruitment Specialist

Author of
Invincible Interview, What Every Candidate Needs To Know To Succeed At An