You know what’s more important than cover letters? Building professional relationships. Another hard truth: As an employer, I never read cover letters. There, I said it.
I know this is earth-shattering to some people, and I can fully understand why. If I spent hours writing a ‘perfect’ cover letter to accompany every application I submitted only to find out that no one ever read it, I would be outraged, too.
Why don’t I read them? There are so many reasons. But, honestly, they all sound like excuses so I’m not going to waste your time listing them out.
The bottom line is that your cover letter just isn’t going to change my impression of your candidacy.
Studies have shown that recruiters spend just 7 seconds reviewing an application on average. If I only have 7 seconds to spend on you, your resume is where I want to spend it.
When your application comes through, I’m going to look at your resume. You’ll either have the work history, education, and years of experience required — or you won’t.
And if you check every box that the hiring manager has specified as a must-have, I’m going to move you along to the next step of the process regardless of what your cover letter may or may not say.
So, what’s one to do if they’re spending all day writing cover letters only to send them into a black hole?
Relationships Are What Set You Apart
There is value in setting yourself apart from the crowd, it’s just a matter of how you go about doing that.
Cover letters don’t get you jobs, but relationships do.
Studies estimate that somewhere between 50–80% of jobs are filled through networking.
As a college student, I remember rolling my eyes when professors rattled off this statistic in an attempt to get us to spend less time on the receiving end of a keg-stand and more time at networking events. ‘Networking’ sounded stuffy and disingenuous. I wasn’t interested.
The trick to networking is to network before you need to be networking. When you’re gainfully employed and spending your free time getting to know people by choice, it’s more like relationship-building than networking in the reciprocal ‘what can you do for me?’ sense.
Suddenly, the whole experience feels more genuine.
My advice to my friend, and you, is to intentionally build professional relationships with people who could help you get your foot in the door at a company you aspire to work for — eventually.
Have you heard of LunchClub? Check it out.
3 Ways to Build Professional Relationships
First, a disclaimer — some online applications will still require a cover letter. But, that does not mean the recruiter is reading them. In those cases, I hereby grant you permission to spend as little time as possible uploading a generic letter that fills the required field and allows you to ‘submit.’
Then, redirect all the remaining energy you’ve been spending writing cover letters into these 3 activities instead:
1. Connect with people whose careers or accomplishments you admire
I have never found networking to be easier than it has been during 2020. Everyone is working-from-home and in front of their laptops all day. Find people on LinkedIn who are doing cool things, connect with them, and send them a message asking them if they’d be open to grabbing a virtual coffee on Zoom to hear more about what led to their success. (Make sure your profile is in working order too.) Frankly, most people are more than happy to talk to you for a half-hour about their favorite topic — themselves. I’ve been able to get time with lots of people using this approach, and very few decline outright. Those that do are probably not worth aspiring to be like anyway.
2. Look for shared connections and ask for introductions
Unless you’ve got a network equivalent to MySpace Tom’s, you’re probably not going to have connections at every company you’re interested in working for. But your connections might have connections to people at those companies, and LinkedIn makes it easy to see for you to search through those by employer name. If you find a mutual connection, ask for an introduction by saying something like, “Hi, I noticed you’re connected with [name] who works at [company]. I’ve always been interested in what they’re doing with [insert cool thing]. Would you mind facilitating an email introduction?” Most people will be happy to do so because humans generally want to help other humans. Doing so helps us meet a basic psychological need.
3. End the conversation with a targeted question
David A. Fields talks about this in the context of business development in his latest book, but it applies to networking just the same. At the end of the conversation, he recommends asking your new connection who the most interesting person they’ve talked to lately is. Once they throw out a name and share a bit about what makes that person so interesting, ask for an introduction. Why? because “people who are interesting are people who are doing things,” Fields says. And you want to be connected with more people who are making things happen.
Your time is valuable. Spend it building professional relationships and let’s make the ‘perfect’ cover letter a thing of the past.