Cover Letters are for Personnel Ladies

Post_office_letters,Once upon a time, at the very beginning of my HR career, I worked at a staffing agency.  Each week hundreds and hundreds of candidates came through our doors, rang us up on the phone, or mailed in their resumes in crisp white envelopes labeled ATTN:  Recruiter.

In those pre-internet pre-email days that’s how job seekers went about searching for work (lord, I sound old).  They didn’t visit online job boards, upload resumes to corporate websites or give a whole lot of thought to keyword-optimization.   In many cases folks were still pounding out their resumes on the old reliable IBM Selectric.  Then, prior to taking a trip to the post office to purchase some stamps, they carefully crafted a cover letter to enclose in the envelope.  Those savvy job seekers realized that the cover letter, if written properly, would allow them to stand out from the crowd. Their cover letter would tell a story of who they were and what they could do; it gave them the chance to showcase their creativity and writing skills.

I’ve got to admit I always loved reading a good cover letter.  I still do.

However, not that long ago my co-presenter at the Louisiana SHRM State Conference sent out a tweet that said  “Cover letters are really for Personnel Ladies.  Dated.”

Well then.


Could it be true, as Bill asserts, that HR ladies, Recruiters and Hiring Managers who like cover letters are hopelessly out-of-touch?  Old-fashioned?  So un-hip it hurts?

I say no – I believe there is always a place for a well-crafted cover letter.  I’m not talking about candidates who are sourced or approached by the recruiter needing to cobble together a cover letter merely as an exercise.  But for job seekers who are actively engaged in their own search I believe that any one of them who does not incorporate a well-written (and brief!) cover letter as part of their introduction to the hiring organization is making a mistake.

There is certainly no way on god’s-green-earth that I want to go back to those old days of typewriters and sorting through mail bags of resumes; I like my ATS, I like my HR technology and I like communicating with candidates in real-time and via a variety of methods.

I also like the civility and good manners displayed with the inclusion of a cover letter (or cover e-mail!) during resume submission.

Call me dated if you will – but please don’t call me “personnel.”


Come visit us at the Louisiana SHRM State Conference next week (!) when we talk about, well, just this sort of thing in our session “HR’s Turning Point.”


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  1. Geri Crull says:

    Old school we may be — but I also prefer the “oomph” of a well though-out Cover Letter. It’s almost as important as the candidate standing up to meet/greet me when I walk in the room for the interview — when either is not there, you get an immediate sense of this person just doesn’t have the well-rounded persona of what I’m looking for. Not to mention the bad manners . . . . .

    Nice to know I’m not the only one who clings to a bit of the more personal touch in this modern day of electronic impersonalizaton!

  2. BillBoorman says:

    Dear Personnel Lady,
    please find attached my cover letter, which you didn’t ask for, and your ATS can’t read. I spent hours crafting it, that I should have spent tailoring my resume and application. You are going to spot a typo or two because I’m a computer programmer, not a form filler, and you are going to reject me, even though this has no relevance to the job I will be doing. I speak in code and numbers, not in a language you understand.

  3. I don’t agree with Bill because we don’t all live in his world. Think small business, retail, mom & pop operations, nonprofits, etc. In my mid-sized nonprofit, a cover letter can do wonders to explain why someone wants to change industries/jobs and start working with people who have disabilities. If, for example, their experience is in corporate management but their sister has Down Syndrome and their uncle has autism and they are passionate about the cause, in my opinion, that information fits best in their cover letter, not their resume. Lacking that piece of information, I’ll probably pass them by.

  4. Bradford Savannah says:

    In order to apply for a job online and to complete online job applications, you’ll need an email address to use for job searching, Internet access, an up-to-date resume, a cover letter for some jobs, your employment history, and your availability to work if you’re applying for a part-time job. *’.-

    See you later

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