Your Cover Letter Can Be More Important Than Your Resume

By Gerald Walsh ©

I’ve written about cover letters before but today I want to give you a specific example of how important they are.

We are just now doing a search for a Human Resource Generalist for Feed Nova Scotia, an organization that does valuable and meaningful work by collecting and distributing food to food banks, shelters, and meal programs throughout Nova Scotia.

As far as I am concerned, the people who work for Feed Nova Scotia are special people. First, they have to be good technically at what they do –whether that is logistics, fundraising, accounting, volunteer development, administration, communications, or transportation.

But beyond their technical skills, they all have a strong social conscience. They are compassionate, empathetic, and committed to helping others. And they do all this for relatively modest pay. 

I am sure you will agree that being the right “fit” is critical for anybody considering joining this organization.

When we posted the ad, we asked applicants to write a cover letter explaining how they could contribute to this organization. Here is the exact wording from the ad:

If you are inspired to join a passionate and caring team in this challenging career opportunity, please forward a detailed cover letter explaining how you can contribute to Feed Nova Scotia. Please also attach a resume.

This is pretty straight forward.

What we were hoping for was that applicants would tell us who they are professionally; explain how their background relates to the job they are applying for; and describe why they would be a good fit with the mission of Feed Nova Scotia.

We received 73 applications in total. Here is a summary:

22 applicants (30%) sent no cover letter at all. None of these applicants were invited in for an interview.

40 applicants (55%) attached a templated cover letter. In most cases, this appeared to be a standard letter – one that was likely used for all applications. Most letters were undated, unsigned, poorly laid-out, and contained spelling and grammar errors. They were addressed to no one in particular, and spoke only about the sender’s qualifications. Not one of them mentioned the name “Feed Nova Scotia” in the letter. 

Only 11 applicants (15%) customized their cover letter to the needs of Feed Nova Scotia. Several of them gave examples of how their human resource skills helped other organizations grow, and wrote about how they could serve the needs of the many employees and volunteers who work for Feed Nova. 

Many applicants also addressed the mission of Feed Nova Scotia and why it would be a fit for them. They said things like:

The valuable but (sadly) essential work that Feed Nova Scotia does on a daily basis is inspiring. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that? 

No one can give their best if they do not have enough to eat.

Feed Nova Scotia’s mission is noble, imperative, and something that I long to be a part of, and contribute to.

Knowing that I was helping, even indirectly, to care for and support families would be very rewarding for me.

It’s easy to see which candidates were selected for interviews.

Some people say that hiring managers don’t read cover letters, so you don’t need to write one.

But that advice is wrong. Many hiring managers won’t even read your resume if you haven’t attached a cover letter. 

Well-written cover letters are an important part of the job search process and one that you should spend a considerable amount of time on before submitting an application.

Remember, this is not the time to be content with being “average” or “good enough.” It’s an opportunity to distinguish yourself from other applicants –your competitors – and to sell yourself to the employer.

Use the opportunity wisely and you will be guaranteed to get more interviews.

More: Don't Be Lazy: Write A Cover Letter That Makes You Stand Out 


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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 15,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn.