Keep Your Resume Under Cover

By Candice Arnold


June 17, 2008

The first thing I learned when I started going over the responses I received to my query about resumes is that there is a consensus of what is acceptable and what isn't. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but don't count on finding one of them during your job search. If you do, great, but if you don't and you've violated one or more of the cardinal rules of resume writing, you'll have only yourself to blame.
My first question concerned cover letters and their importance. Most of the respondents said they wanted to see a cover letter. The top four reasons they want candidates to include cover letters with their resumes:
  1. to see how the candidate thinks and expresses himself/herself in writing
  2. to determine if the candidate researched the position
  3. to determine if the candidate researched the company
  4. to discover the candidate's reason for applying to the position offered
Carol McLaughlin, branch manager for Spherion in Canton, Ohio, likes to read the cover letter after looking at the resume, "to look for the candidate's professional introduction and the reason why they are sending their resume."
"What I look for," says Linda Pophal, human resource management expert and business journalist, "is an indication of the overall job/professional experience of the candidate and how relevant it is to the position being filled."
Tailoring the cover letter to the company and the position desired ranks high with everyone. Ken Whiting, creator of the WAVES for Success program, Ron Axelrod, vice-president of new business development and recruiting at RTTS, Inc., Dr. Rachelle J. Canter, president of RJC Associates and author of "Make the Right Career Move," Craig Kasco, recruiter for 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, J.P. Lincoln, founding partner of Crier Communications, Steven Himmelrich, of Himmelrich Public Relations, Tina Hamilton, PHR. president, and CEO of hireVision Group, Inc., and Susan Peppercorn, founder and CEO of Inspiring Career, are unanimous on that point.
"There should be some mention of specific facts of the company they are applying to and how they would connect with the company's product, service, location, mission, or values," says Whiting.
Lee Salz, author, speaker, and business consultant, believes that, "while having a boiler-plate cover letter makes sense, it should be customized to match the job you are pursuing. As a manager reviewing that letter, I'm looking to see if this person wants my job, not just a job."
My panel of experts also agree that recent college graduates looking for entry-level employment with dynamic companies should write equally dynamic cover letters. "Avoid cookie-cutter template resumes, cover letters, and thank you notes," Axelrod advises.
Debbie Anglin, principal at Anglin Public Relations, Inc., likes cover letters that showcase candidates' achievements or provide other information that's inappropriate for the resume such as "I paid my own way through college." And Karen Wright, operations director for KMSU 89.7 FM, likes to see cover letters that indicate the candidate has "an understanding of what the job is about."
True, there are some recruiters and hiring managers who don't require a cover letter, but most do. So, in the words of Susan Peppercorn, "When in doubt, it's always better to submit one."