The Role of Cover Letters in the Era of Online Recruitment: How to Update This Job-Search Essential for the 21st Century
It's no secret that a well-written cover letter has long been a must for serious job seekers. These personal introductions in letter form give candidates an opportunity to frame their experience in the best possible light.
For decades, the standard format of the cover letter remained more or less unchanged. With the exception of a few changes in the prevailing standards of tone and word choice, most of the advice that was being given to job seekers in the 1940s and 1950s could still be found in job search manuals in the late 1990s.
The Online Recruitment Revolution
Then, all at once, everything changed. The dot-com boom ushered in a brave new era for job seekers and recruiters in every industry. Today, well over half of all recruitment efforts and hiring processes take place, at least in part, online.
It's impossible to overstate the impact that the shift to online recruitment has exerted upon the job search process. The emergence of this new recruitment paradigm has changed virtually every aspect of the way that most people seek work today.
The 21st Century Cover Letter
One important example of this shift can be seen in the changes that the cover letter has undergone over the last several years. Today’s typical electronic cover letter is shorter -- and significantly more important -- than its long-form predecessor.
With recruiters now regularly plowing through dozens of emailed résumés for each position advertised online, the window of opportunity for standing out from the crowd has narrowed considerably, making the stakes for cover letter success much higher. Even if your "cover letter" is just a brief email introduction to your attached résumé, it's crucial that you make every word count.
Use a condensed version of the traditional cover letter format.
The traditional cover letter follows the standard business letter form. It includes formal greeting and closing sentiments, as well as separate paragraphs summarizing your experience, describing your suitability for the advertised position, and showcasing your background knowledge of the company. By sticking to a slightly shortened version of the conventional cover letter form, you'll show that you respect the process and know how to play by the rules. You'll stand out from the majority of applicants who use a too-casual approach or, worse yet, skip the cover letter altogether, allowing you to score points for professionalism and decorum along the way.
Get to the point.
The traditional cover letter usually comprises three to four lengthy paragraphs, including several sentences that showcase and highlight the information in your résumé. In an electronic cover letter, you don't have the luxury of all that space. To catch the eye of a recruiter who is working through an inbox full of applications, you have to start off with a bang. After dispensing with greetings and other formalities, describe why you're a great fit for the advertised position in the very first paragraph. Martin Yate, résumé expert and author of Cover Letters that Knock 'em Dead, suggests limiting your electronic cover letter to just one "screen view," if possible.
In order to make sure your e-correspondence is routed to the right person, clearly state the position you're applying for in the subject line. To eliminate confusion, double-check to make sure that what you've typed in matches the title of their job posting exactly. If you are not responding to an ad, state your credentials, industry experience, and the kind of position you're looking for in your introductory paragraph. Even the most compelling cover letter won't help you land a job if it winds up in the wrong inbox
We all know that email and other forms of electronic correspondence tend to elicit a more casual conversational tone. However, what might work when you're trading emails with a close friend could be the kiss of death when you're looking for a job. If you're unsure of what tone to take, be sure always to err on the side of formality.
With just a few simple changes, it's easy to update your cover letter for the 21st century. With an e-cover letter that's brief, specific, detailed, polished, and professional, you'll be well-positioned to stand out from the crowd.