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Thread: To cover letter or not to cover letter

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    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    To cover letter or not to cover letter

    I'm in the process of reviewing application submittals for my replacement, and I have to admit I am incredibly sad that so many good candidates based on qualifications and achievements either do not follow instructions or do not follow common business/professional etiquette/protocol. With 108 applicants, this is unfortunately (for these persons) a way to narrow the candidate field.

    Word of advice: even if the instructions do not specify, if you want a professional-level position, include a professional cover letter and keep your resumes to 2 pages (1 page if at all possible). I want to know who you are, and cover letters display this better than just about anything short of an interview. I also do not want to see your entire career explained in detail like (and sometimes included with) curriculum vitae. If this were an academic or think tank position, that would be appropriate. Entry-to-mid level professional planner position, it is not.

    /rant

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  2. #2
    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    I'm in the process of reviewing application submittals for my replacement, and I have to admit I am incredibly sad that so many good candidates based on qualifications and achievements either do not follow instructions or do not follow common business/professional etiquette/protocol. With 108 applicants, this is unfortunately (for these persons) a way to narrow the candidate field.

    Word of advice: even if the instructions do not specify, if you want a professional-level position, include a professional cover letter and keep your resumes to 2 pages (1 page if at all possible). I want to know who you are, and cover letters display this better than just about anything short of an interview. I also do not want to see your entire career explained in detail like (and sometimes included with) curriculum vitae. If this were an academic or think tank position, that would be appropriate. Entry-to-mid level professional planner position, it is not.

    /rant

    So you want people to follow instructions, and the instructions don't include a cover letter but you want one anyways? I think that's more your problem than any indication of faults on the part of the applicants. I've had people tell me they don't want cover letters. Dinging people for such a thing seems incredibly dicked IMO.

    Edit: See post 3300 to see clarification on why maybe it's not incredibly dicked .


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    Last edited by imaplanner; 06 Jun 2011 at 2:34 PM.
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by imaplanner View post
    So you want people to follow instructions, and the instructions don't include a cover letter but you want one anyways? I think that's more your problem than any indication of faults on the part of the applicants. I've had people tell me they don't want cover letters. Dinging people for such a thing seems incredibly dicked IMO.
    Normally in this type of scenario I would agree with you. But how does anyone expect to apply for a real job without including a cover letter? I could understand if you're talking about a service level job or something that potentially wouldn't require a cover letter, but in this instance for this type of job if you say something like, "applications should be sent to xyz or www..." and half the applicants provide a letter while the other half don't bother, I would say the ones who wrote the letter took the job ad more seriously.


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  4. #4
    Cyburbian kltoomians's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by imaplanner View post
    So you want people to follow instructions, and the instructions don't include a cover letter but you want one anyways? I think that's more your problem than any indication of faults on the part of the applicants.
    I agree...sometimes I worry I'll get penalized for making you read more than you intended to (and not following directions), but include a 1pg cover letter anyway. I guess I'll stick with that strategy.
    "I'm a boomerang, doesn't matter how you throw me
    I turn around and I'm back in the game
    Even better than the old me"

  5. #5
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    Word of advice: even if the instructions do not specify, if you want a professional-level position, include a professional cover letter and keep your resumes to 2 pages (1 page if at all possible). I want to know who you are, and cover letters display this better than just about anything short of an interview. I also do not want to see your entire career explained in detail like (and sometimes included with) curriculum vitae. If this were an academic or think tank position, that would be appropriate. Entry-to-mid level professional planner position, it is not.
    Quote Originally posted by imaplanner View post
    So you want people to follow instructions, and the instructions don't include a cover letter but you want one anyways? I think that's more your problem than any indication of faults on the part of the applicants. I've had people tell me they don't want cover letters. Dinging people for such a thing seems incredibly dicked IMO.
    I think a cover letter should be included with every application; however, the issue of resume length is a whole other ball game. It is really a 50/50 shot for applicants at the mercy of the reviewer. I have found that application reviewers want more information on your resume now than was standard just 10-20 years ago. The 1 resume is becoming an artifact in my opinion. More and more people are submitting and requesting 2-3 page resumes these days. I think this has to do with level of competition in the job market. A 1 page bio isn't enough to distinguish applicants anymore, unless you are just looking for what school people went to and who they know.

    In this kind of climate, applicants have to make the best educated guess that they can and submit either a 1 page bio or a 2-3 page more detailed resume and hope that the people reviewing the first rounds aren't dinging them for going with their choice.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by HomerJ9139 View post
    Normally in this type of scenario I would agree with you. But how does anyone expect to apply for a real job without including a cover letter? I could understand if you're talking about a service level job or something that potentially wouldn't require a cover letter, but in this instance for this type of job if you say something like, "applications should be sent to xyz or www..." and half the applicants provide a letter while the other half don't bother, I would say the ones who wrote the letter took the job ad more seriously.
    Ok. If the application says "send to such and such person" then yes I will agree with you.

    I guess I am used to applying online through human resource departments where there is no such and such person to send a cover letter to (and often times I am finding there is no possible way to send one even if you wanted through the online system - and these are everything from entry to management type planning positions). And addressing cover letters to "To whom it may concern" is really tacky.
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  7. #7
    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TerraSapient View post
    I think a cover letter should be included with every application; however, the issue of resume length is a whole other ball game. It is really a 50/50 shot for applicants at the mercy of the reviewer. I have found that application reviewers want more information on your resume now than was standard just 10-20 years ago. The 1 resume is becoming an artifact in my opinion. More and more people are submitting and requesting 2-3 page resumes these days. I think this has to do with level of competition in the job market. A 1 page bio isn't enough to distinguish applicants anymore, unless you are just looking for what school people went to and who they know.

    In this kind of climate, applicants have to make the best educated guess that they can and submit either a 1 page bio or a 2-3 page more detailed resume and hope that the people reviewing the first rounds aren't dinging them for going with their choice.
    I also think that because people change jobs every few years or someone that has an extensive education makes it difficult to stick to a one page resume. Mine is three pages due to my various internships and overlapping jobs from the past few years, but it reads very cleanly and is not full of big blocks of text so it reads very easily. I always include a cover letter even if it is not requested.

    Not that any of this has borne any fruit lately. Even lower paying jobs in the boondocks are garnering 100+ applications so it's a slim to none chance for the most part. I keep trying though.
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

  8. #8
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by imaplanner View post
    Ok. If the application says "send to such and such person" then yes I will agree with you.

    I guess I am used to applying online through human resource departments where there is no such and such person to send a cover letter to (and often times I am finding there is no possible way to send one even if you wanted through the online system - and these are everything from entry to management type planning positions). And addressing cover letters to "To whom it may concern" is really tacky.
    It has been my experience that finding out who to address your cover letter to is as simple as a 2-minute telephone call to the HR department or the department head/assistant for the department the position will be located in.

    I don't mind a 2-page resume if it is relevant. I find it somewhat stretched to include a resume over 2 pages, regardless of detail. In addition to formatting the resume to where it can fit attractively, It is not necessary to give detailed explanation of jobs held that are not relevant to the position being applied for. If there is some massive career change or large gap in employment and you feel a detailed explanation would be beneficial, include it as a separate addendum to the application.

  9. #9
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    With 108 applicants...
    Be happy you didn't get 250. I would say maybe 100 were qualified, and maybe 50 were "well" qualified. And of the 10 we interviewed, 2 were actually good.

    In this economy, you have to sell yourself on the cover letter and resume. Mistakes might get you thrown out, when you are a better candidate. I was disappointed we didn't get a candidate who I thought would be good, but didn't make the initial cut.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    I think it's idiotic not to include a cover letter. The cover letter is your chance to sell yourself and summarize how you meet the job requirements to a "T." If it's not read, oh well. But if it is you have used the chance to make an impression. It's foolish to throw that opportunity away.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    My comments are public sector related. Private sector is obviously different. And I will also note that public agencies with very small departments are different. Mostly my experience is in applying for larger agencies where HR and Planning don't really know what each other is doing.

    Are you people all applying on-line? Most jobs I have been applying to in the last 5 years or so are online only, and if a cover letter isn't required there usually is no place to attach it.

    I also think if you want a cover letter you should ask for one or at least mention that they will be accepted. Some people don't want them. In fact, of the four planning jobs I have been hired for, only one I submitted a cover letter for.

    And I'm sure it will come as no surprise to people, but I am of the opinion that people need to stop pretending that this is your grandfathers workplace. A good cover letter IMO means ziltch. You are hiring a person, not a cover letter.

    I will also add that human resources departments oftentimes are clueless on who you should send the cover letter to. I have actually had HR people tell me NOT to send one. Job-seekers are left guessing. I don't want to harass everyone and send a cover letter when they don't want one. If you don't specifically mention it you are leaving people guessing. And if you don't mention it I DO think it's unfortunate that you use that as a screening tool. I could send you letters of references also but if you don't ask for it why isn't that the same as a cover letter? Job-seekers aren't mind readers.
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  12. #12
    Cyburbian Rygor's avatar
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    When I was doing my job search most recently I always sent a cover letter and my resume was 3 pages long. I also did a very specific "supplemental" description of my skills and work experience for some online applications where there was room to send additional information. I got phone interviews on approximately 50% of the jobs I applied for, second round interviews on at least 50% of those, and made the final cut (final 2 or 3) on 3 of the approximately 30 jobs I applied to. Granted I was doing a very targeted search for positions that I felt I was highly qualified for based on the description.
    "When life gives you lemons, just say 'No thanks'." - Henry Rollins

  13. #13
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    If it says to send the resume to the HR person who do you make the cover letter out to? Do you address to the hiring person in the Planning Dept?
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    If it says to send the resume to the HR person who do you make the cover letter out to? Do you address to the hiring person in the Planning Dept?
    I would call the HR person and ask if applications will be forwarded to the Planning Dept. to make a decision or whether they will be the ones making the decision. Then address it to the person who will be making the decision.

  15. #15
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    I usually include "cover letters are encouraged and may be addressed to <info>" in job postings. I have required them at times for some jobs, but always at a minimum encouraged them. I like to use "encouraged" because it can give me an idea of how perceptive the applicant is, as that can reflect abilities to read between the lines when it comes to other professional issues. Cover letters are not just about selling yourself, but also providing a perspective employer a glimpse of your writing style & ability. So much of planning involves writing, and I don't want to deal with remedial writing with a new employee.

    Even if you didn't require it, I think you can still filter your applicants simply because the cover letter gave you more information about them to consider when making cuts. I consider a cover letter critical, particularly in this economy, as an opportunity to tell a little more about yourself, why you are interested in the job (other than "I'm getting tired of ramen noodles"), and demonstrate some of your abilities through writing.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    I would call the HR person and ask if applications will be forwarded to the Planning Dept. to make a decision or whether they will be the ones making the decision. Then address it to the person who will be making the decision.
    Wondering why your application instructions are phrased in the form of a quiz.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    I agree with most here that if it doesn't specify to include a cover letter, err on the side of including it. However, like imaplanner mentions public sector employment in larger organizations where the actual departments don't have as much of a hand in the hiring process, especially at the entry-level positions, it can be difficult to impossible to include one. My organization employs 3,200+, openings must be applied for online through a specific web application which doesn't allow uploading a resume or cover letter, many of the entry-level positions (when there are any) have very generic titles and requirements and often don't mention which department you would be working in, and if you call HR and ask they often will not tell you what you are actually applying for (and often you are just applying to be put on a list for an eventual opening).

    I often wonder how many good applicants pass us up because of how difficult it can be to actually get your information to us or because they might think they are applying for some random "Business Analyst" position?
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  18. #18
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    WSU MUP Student touched on a significant issue with "paperless applications"--there are some really crappy online HR programs out there. It seems more are moving towards the kind that require you to 'fill in the blank' and also provide the capability to add up to four attachments (i.e. resume, cover letter, responses to required written questions, etc.), but many still lag behind with a generic, ineffective fillable form.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  19. #19
    In this digital age, the email body in which the resume is attached constitutes the cover letter. If you want a separate cover letter document, not only should you specify it in your announcement, but provide a qualifier such as: "we know requesting separately documented cover letters is redundant in this digital age, but we like to feel important by asking for it anyways."

    Really, the original post just smacks of douchebaggery. Relax, and judge candidates on the more important factors. You could hire someone with the most mind-blowing, orgasmic cover letter of all time, but they could be a total idiot with everything else.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    A cover should always be included whether requested or not. If I am emailing my resume in I attach a cover letter as a second attachment and reference it in the email. On some HR webbased software I where only one attachment is allowed I have my cover letter first and resume second. References and salary history I only provide upon specific request.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  21. #21
    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    I agree that it is foolish of people not to include a cover letter. When you are competing with at least 100 people for pretty much every job, you have to know that others are going to be submitting cover letters to sell themselves, whether they are requested or not. Even for some of the jobs I applied to that had online systems where you could not attach them, I went ahead and emailed them anyway. In fact, I think taking that extra step (emailing a cover letter when the system did not allow) helped me succeed in landing an interview or two. You gotta realize, a lot of city/county jobs are low-paying, low-skill public works, maintenance, and nurse's aides jobs where cover letters are not really necessary, and that's what I think some of those online systems are designed for. For the white collar jobs that require more, you sometimes have to take that extra step.

    I think the only time I would not submit a cover letter is if it specifically said not to.

    In this day and age where 100 people are applying and nearly all of them have outstanding qualifications, you have to make the cut somehow, and spelling errors and lack of cover letters are two very easy methods of trimming down candidates. Obviously, to me, a cover letter would imply that the person is driven, hard-working and really wants that job that they would go the extra mile to draft a personally-addressed cover letter, oriented at that job. In addition, planners typically write tons of letters and reports as part of their daily tasks...cover letters provide great opportunity to find out who has those necessary skills and who does not.
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  22. #22
    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    I just got an interview with no cover letter.

    Suckers
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  23. #23
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Yeah!

    Like Imaplanner, I'm comfortable letting my resume speak for itself for most job applications. If I have to write a cover letter, so be it.

    My resume is currently 4 full pages, I think I will create a 3 page alternate version this week. If you are applying for an executive position, you need a finely-tailored cover letter and a fully descriptive resume.
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  24. #24
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by The One View post
    Like Imaplanner, I'm comfortable letting my resume speak for itself for most job applications. If I have to write a cover letter, so be it.

    My resume is currently 4 full pages, I think I will create a 3 page alternate version this week. If you are applying for an executive position, you need a finely-tailored cover letter and a fully descriptive resume.
    Which of the 3 pictures pictures of you and the Jonas Brothers are you dropping from your resume?
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  25. #25
    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by The One View post

    My resume is currently 4 full pages, I think I will create a 3 page alternate version this week. If you are applying for an executive position, you need a finely-tailored cover letter and a fully descriptive resume.
    I think that is probably a good idea. That fourth page describing our Vegas shenanigans probably isn't necessary.
    Children in the back seat can cause accidents - and vice versa.

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