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In 2009, a study of 2,000 recruiters found that an astonishing 90 percent of them never read cover letters when reviewing applications.
Five years later, with the continuing emergence of technology in our everyday lives, the traditional cover letter is becoming antiquated as more and more companies are adopting radical hiring techniques that seek to zero in on the perfect candidate.
While the cover letter is a fantastic resource for potential candidates to set themselves apart from competition and add context to their application, some employers have noticed there is a sizable difference between the intended point of them, and the majority of actual letters they receive. This causes them to simply ignore them all together, and base their decision on the skills and qualifications detailed in the resume.
Many companies now have ATS (applicant tracking systems) that scan, and potentially trash, your application without even being read by an actual human. If you want to stand out in your job search, but your prospective employer insists a cover letter is not necessary, here are three modern alternatives you can use to still establish yourself as a candidate worth consideration.
1. Targeted Resumes
Lets say you’re applying for a job that only wants your resume. You really wanted to communicate your skills and qualifications further with a cover letter, but that’s no longer an option. Targeted resumes seek to fill that gap by being customized to fit each company you’re applying to — relative to the job description.
If you’re applying to a job in marketing, but mass-apply using a resume that has nothing to do with the qualifications (in terms of skills and experience highlighted) the position required, you’re going to get a pretty low response rate. But if you tailor each resume to reflect the duties of the job you’re applying for, you’ll have a better chance of making it through an ATS and standing out to recruiters. Even if you don’t have direct experience in the industry you’re applying for, you can still find a way to highlight your previous experience to translate into the company’s requested qualifications.
That’s not to say you should disqualify cover letters completely — if the job posting lets you create one, then by all means! But by using a targeted resume, you can look to include more in-depth information in your cover letter. And if you do wind up in a scenario where your cover letter is ignored, your resume will still have that relevant, important information in it which garners deeper consideration.
Just as a cover letter provides a detailed supplement to your resume, a story seeks to accomplish the same goal, but with a more personal and creative touch. You can swap it out for a cover letter, or put it on your portfolio or website. If you want to craft a story, you should make sure the company you’re applying to has a culture that encourages that sort of expression in their application process.
Since a targeted resume covers a good deal of the points a traditional cover letter seeks to take care of, a story should focus on one specific tale that showcases your personality, situation-handling, and skills relative to the duties in the job posting. Maybe it’s your greatest accomplishment or achievement, or a hard decision you had to make — whatever it is, make sure it can be applied to the position you want. Now equally or even most importantly of all, a good story should be entertaining and interesting to read. Creativity and strong writing skills are traits that should be possessed if you choose to substitute a traditional cover letter for a story.
If you want to ensure your story is read, make it relatively short and put it in the body of an email rather than a document that requires employers to download if they want to read it. Make it easily accessible and enticing from the very beginning and your chances of it getting read will greatly increase.
3. Improve Your Network
In today’s competitive job market, it’s less about what you know than who you know. Recommendations to HR from current employees carry huge weight in the hiring process, and recruiters are relying on them more and more to find quality candidates to pursue. Why spend hours working on a cover letter to showcase your skills and personality when you could just as easily tell that information to an influential connection who can, in turn, pass on that information to HR?
When crafting a cover letter, you’re writing it with the fact in mind that it’s going to a complete stranger. When you come recommended (get it?), the employer doesn’t need that supplemental information about you because they already know the value you’re capable of providing. (If you need a refresher on networking, look no further, we’ve got you covered — read this article!).
If you have a list of companies you want to work for, find people that work for them that you can connect with — either online or in-person. Then, set up a professional meeting where you can give them a better idea of who you are. Be sure to share your previous relevant experiences and skills that apply to the industry, and make your connection feel confident that they can refer you without regretting it later on. Once you do this, encourage them to recommend you to their recruiters and stay in touch with them while you await the follow-up that’s sure to come.
What other cover letter alternatives do you recommend using in your job search process?
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