I have discussed this topic in the past, and I see that it is still one of the most frequently asked and hotly debated questions on Linked-In. So I think it is worth revisiting, exploring both sides of the questions. Then you can be the final judge of what to do in your job search.
The only thing that people on all sides of the great cover letter debate agree upon is when a recruiter, employer or job posting requests that you include a cover letter along with your resume that you do so; and you must follow their directions to a tee including sending a detailed salary history if requested.
What I observed in evaluating the importance of a cover letter is, just like in politics, the pro and con opinions seem to follow defined lines. In participating in and following up with fellow contributors on these discussions I found that recruiters generally share a point of view that a cover letter is helpful to them and I recommend that you send one to them.
As a recruiter I rarely read cover letters. When I did it was only after reading the resume first, unless I asked for one for a particular assignment, and I will say I rejected more people based on their cover letter than I was swayed to change my original opinion. However I do know many recruiters, especially in high level search and certain industries who feel a cover letter is a required part of the resume submittal process.
So my opinion is that a cover letter should be sent to a recruiter since you need to sell them on accepting you as a candidate and working with you on the current assignment as well as on future assignments. Just make sure your cover letter is on-target, polished and professional.
I also found that corporate people who screen resumes in smaller companies and for companies that don’t hire on a regular basis, or in high volume rely more on cover letters to differentiate between candidates. I think this is because they have not developed the skills to judge candidates on the basis of their resume and social media.
So I would recommend you send one to them as well, but if you do not it is not a major faux pas.
Many of you will be dealing with recruiters on the corporate side who are working on high volume searches where they receive up to 300 resumes per job, and they generally work on multiple internal assignments with different departments and decision makers. These people do not have the time or inclination to read or receive a cover letter. To them it is another piece of useless clutter on their desk or inbox.
For them I suggest it is best to use the time and effort you put into a cover letter into tweaking and customizing your resume for the specific job you are applying for. The odds of reading your cover letter and sending it up the line are slim. But on the downside the people who do take the time to read your cover letter will scrutinize it so you better be carful how it is written. I have also found most of these recruiters/screeners dislike being sold, have a low tolerance for repetitiveness, and are prone to look for and question discrepancies in your resume and cover letter. So if you have a choice you can get away without a cover letter and it will not have a negative impact on your candidacy.
Now my personal opinion is if a cover letter is not specifically required it can do more harm than good. Most people I know are average to poor resume writers who learn through trial and error; and they are even worse at writing a cover letter. So if resume and cover letter writing is not your forte I suggest you not write one. If you feel a need to do so remember your cover letter will be judged on spelling, grammar, content, style and how well it sells you against other candidates. I think if your resume is a powerful document you should rely on it and save your sales pitch for a personal interview.
I believe the best approach in most cases is the middle ground, which is to send a simple letter of introduction along with your resume. Do not try and sell yourself. Just explain what job you are applying for, that the resume will show why you are a good fit, and offer include contact information and availability for an interview.
Again I would appreciate if you all weigh in on this discussion and leave a comment here or send one to me directly.
Perry Newman, CPC CSMS is a nationally recognized executive resume writer, career coach, AIPC certified recruiter and SMMU certified social media strategist known for his ability to help his clients get results. You can view his sample resumes at http://www.perrynewman.com/, and email him your resume at firstname.lastname@example.org for FREE resume critique.