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To Cover Letter or Not to Cover Letter?
One of the most common questions we receive is whether or not to include a cover letter with a job application. On one hand, a Cover Letter is a great way to introduce yourself, especially if you can do it in a memorable and personable way. It shows you put forth the extra effort and if done correctly, can really make you stand out. On the other hand, writing them requires a skill that many are uncomfortable with and a poorly crafted Cover Letter can actually hinder your chances even if coupled with a great resume.
In the end, this article is going to base a decision on what Hiring Managers have indicated for years - they love ‘em!
First off, the most important rule - if the job description specifically requires a Cover Letter, you must include one if you plan on applying for the position. Reality check, nobody is so above replacement that they need not follow instructions and still get the job.
With that said, most job descriptions do not require a Cover Letter. So now what? Well, here are three instances when you should NOT include a Cover Letter:
If You Have No Interest or Ability to Personalize the Cover Letter: If you are going to search online to find some generic template out there, you are better off not submitting one. For years, job seekers have rushed online, found a template and proudly sent them off. Hiring Managers have seen them all and are well aware they took 5 minutes to create for mass-distribution. Even worse, they take the time and attention from your resume, which is sure to be better than a templated Cover Letter.
If You Have Nothing New to Say: Remember, the Cover Letter is supposed to be personal and grab the reader’s attention. If you plan on summarizing your education, work experience and education - DON’T - leave that for your resume. But if you have a personal backstory that explains how you became interested in the field or the employer, that’s great!.
If You Want to Provide Examples of How You WIll Add Value to or Improve the Company: You can use a Cover Letter to demonstrate your knowledge of the position, but most likely you will come off like a know-it-all or worse be perceived as having negative things to say, which no Hiring Manager will entertain. You will have your opportunity to answer these questions in an interview (hopefully).
In most other cases, it’s appropriate and recommended to send a Cover Letter. You should be prepared to spend just as much time on it, possible more, than your resume. You should share valuable, personal and memorable information that is not on your resume. In addition to compelling life stories that relate to your background, here are some hints:
Do You Have a Personal Connection or Referral? If you were referred by a family member or a friend, always not this in the Cover Letter. How do you know them? Did they introduce you to any other company employees? Why did they think you would be a great fit?
Do You Have a History With the Company? Maybe you worked for a competitor, supplier or vendor. Maybe you crossed paths with a current or former employee at another company. Who was it (help connect the dots)? What information was shared that swayed you to want to work for the company?
It’s Your Dream Job. It sounds, and may feel corny, to write a passionate and heartfelt Cover Letter indicating this particular position is your dream job. But so long as you have taken the time to explain why providing examples as to why (i.e.: research performed on the company, its culture and the position), it’s only human nature for the Hiring Manager to be impacted by that and remember it.
No work experience? No worries. How to find a job anyway.
It can be quite a conundrum – employers want to hire candidates with experience, but if you’re a first-time job seeker or have not worked in a long period of time, how can you have experience? The first step is understanding that anything task that required you to be responsible, solve problems and/or learn new skills can be considered work experience even if you were not paid. So that time you spent babysitting, housesitting, volunteering, washing cars and walking dogs for the neighbors or raising children all exemplify qualities that employers deem valuable. This is work experience that you can be proud to tout. Ideally, you are able to apply the skills you used and those you learned to doing these tasks to the position you are applying to.
Did your employment application just get tossed by a robot?
Online job postings receive an average of 425 applications. 60% of employers use some sort of automated screening that allows them to quickly get to the shortlist of candidates. So even if you are a perfect fit for the position, there is a chance your application is tossed for missing a minor detail. First and foremost, read the application instructions carefully: all required fields must be completed, include “N/A” in optional questions that are not applicable to you and avoid using special characters. Triple check your grammar, spelling, capitalization and punctuation. Use the exact keywords from the job posting in your application – the more often the job posting repeats customer service, the more important that keyword is to the automated screening. Additionally, identify the key responsibilities and requirements – for example if you applying to work in a warehouse you may see terms like “Forklift”, “Material Handling Equipment”, “Receiving” and “Unloading”. Make a list and get those keywords in your application.
7 Things You Need To Know About Applicant Tracking Systems
1. What is an Applicant Tracking System (“ATS”)? Plain and simple, an ATS is software that companies license to streamline their recruiting and hiring processes. These systems aren’t cheap, but with the power to collect, sort, scan, screen and rank thousands of resumes for hundreds of job openings, it’s easy to see how they save companies money. Like ‘em, love ‘em or frustrated by them, they are here to stay. Taleo, BrassRing, WorkDay, Cadient, if you’ve applied for jobs online, these probably sound familiar to you. Or maybe you missed these and interacted with some of the 30+ other ATSs out there like TalentReef, ADP, iCIMS, etc. Either way, these systems process your application before it’s ever seen by a recruiter or Hiring Manager.
2. Why do Employers use an Applicant Tracking System? If you were paying attention, you got this one….first and foremost to save money. Each job opening can receive hundreds of applications. The manpower necessary to sort, screen and prioritize all of those applications for the Hiring Manager usually isn’t feasible no matter how many clerks you hire. The second reason, CYA (google it if you are not familiar with this acronym). Federal laws, state laws, EEOC, HIPAA, privacy are all potential pitfalls to any company hiring even just a few employees. An ATS will also help and employer stay compliant and most importantly, document their compliance for backup.
3. Applicant Tracking Systems are Everywhere We’ve already established that ATSs are here to stay and even tried to impress you by rattling off the names of eight of them. But when you consider that a Kelly OCG survey recently found that 98% of Fortune 500 companies, 65% of all large companies and for good measure, 42% of all small companies use an ATS, anyone would be hard-pressed to name them all. At this point, we have to accept that if you are applying for jobs online, you are submitting your application through an ATS.
4. How does an ATS Work? Collection and Storage: Applications and resumes are stored, sometimes even after the original position you applied for has been filled. This database can be searched and sorted at anytime so a Hiring Manager can find what they are looking for. Viewing Applications: Some Hiring Managers still choose to review every application that comes in. A study performed by TheLadders, indicates that in these rare cases, the application has six seconds to grab their attention. However, the same study, also indicated that most applications that do not meet the automated screening requirements are never seen. Automatically Ranking and Prioritizing Candidates: The automated scanning process can not only cull out the first round of applicants, but also automatically rank and prioritize those who passed the screening. This allows a Hiring Manager to focus only on the top candidates if they choose. Searches: This allows a Hiring Manager to perform keyword searches and find any applications that contain past job titles, skills or achievements - while also culling out those that do not contain those keywords.
5. The Format of Your Resume Matters When you upload your resume into an ATS, most software parse the document into a digital profile so all the nifty features discussed above are uniform. It is important to create a parsable resume by keeping section headings simple, consistently formatting similar information (i.e.: same font style and size for work history and dates), while avoiding tables and always using a .docx or .pdf file type.
6. There are Ways to Beat an Applicant Tracking System Unfortunately, there is no magic formula. But you can certainly increase your chances, like a card-counter at a Black Jack table, with a resume that is optimized for the ATS and appealing to the people pushing the buttons. Tailor Your Resume Every Time: A job description details the skills and qualifications the employer is looking for. Most resumes submitted are going to be a generic description of experience and qualifications, leaving it up to the ATS and the Hiring Manager to decide whether you are capable of doing the job. But, a tailored resume can load the deck in your favor if it is an easy-to-read road map where and how you developed each of the required skills and qualifications. Match Your Resume Keywords to the Job Description: This isn’t about figuring out how to stuff a bunch of keywords into your resume. Rather, it’s about using your thesaurus skills to replace keywords in your resume that match those in the employer’s job description. For example, if the job description is seeking a candidate that has provided outstanding customer service with cashier experience, the caption about helping customers and efficiently performing register transactions will not work. Match the keywords with “Played an integral role in providing customer service, ensuring customer satisfaction and continued retail store loyalty. Efficiently performed Cashier duties exceeding all customer service, accuracy, cash handling and safeguarding requirements.” Use as Many Variations of Long-Form and Abbreviation Keywords: For example, if the job description is requiring experience in MS Office, certainly use this nomenclature the most, but also try to weave in Microsoft Office and Microsoft Office Suite. Do Not Use Tables or Columns: These often lead to parsing and formatting issues. Use a Traditional Font: Helvetica, Georgia or Garamond tend to be the most friendly. Use Standard Resume Headings: Headers like “Contact Information”, “Work Experience” and “Education” are just fine. If you try too hard to stand out, the ATS may not know how to translate it. The Type of File Matters: Save your file as a .docx (preferable) or a .pdf. Keyword Stuffing or Over-Optimizing Won’t Work: Okay, maybe, just maybe, it will work to beat the pre-screening, but eventually your application and resume will be reviewed by a Hiring Associate or Manager. At that point, you will either look illiterate and get bounced or worse, you can get blacklisted on certain ATSs. Given that an ATS can be licensed by multiple employers, that could be detrimental.
7. The Applicant Tracking System is Here to Stay Given all of the benefits an ATS provides to employers, the ever-evolving use of Artificial Intelligence in the recruiting industry a wide net of applicants and ATS can cast, they are going to be around for a long time. It’s up to us, the jobseeker, to adapt and change the way we apply. An ATS-optimized resume is the first step in getting past the robots and in front of a Hiring Manager.