concern.jpgThere are few things I hate more than sending a letter to a company with this salutation: “To Whom It May Concern,”

Even though I’m a writer, I just can’t get the letter-writing juices going if I don’t know who I’m writing to. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so torn about the value of sending cover letters with online job applications. Typically you don’t know who the hiring manager is and there’s no guarantee they’ll even read the letter.

This is why the question of whether to send a cover letter or not with your resume has heated up in recent years. Before the Internet, and the ability to send hundreds of resumes off into the job board ether, there was little debate over whether or not to send a cover letter. You just did.When your resume arrived by snail mail it would have been highly rude and sort of dumb not to send a cover letter. The letter was your introduction, explaining your interest in a firm and a particular job. And chances were, you were able to get the name of a specific person to send the letter to. Can you imagine a mailroom back then with hundreds of letters and no specific recipient name?

Today, all bets are off. Job seekers often send multiple resumes to multiple employers, and companies are inundated with resumes and barely have time to read through those. Some employers don’t expect a cover letter and often there isn’t even a place to include a cover letter for some online job postings. But some employers do still expect one. How do you know whether it’s a good idea to craft such a letter, or whether it’s a waste of time?

What got me thinking about this was a tweet I received yesterday from @saandstorm, aka George Lara with WBEZ, a Chicago public radio station:

My company is looking for a HR Dir. I’m shocked at how few cover letters I’m seeing with resumes. They should know better.

I thought it was particularly odd that someone looking for a job as a human resources director wouldn’t send a cover letter. You would think they’d err on the side of traditional job-hunting techniques.

Lara said about 10 percent who apply for jobs at the station just include: “please see attached resume”.

Clearly, sending a cover letter to WBEZ is your best call, but what about other employers?

I did a Twitter poll asking: are applicants not sending cover letters with resumes?/@saandstorm is seeing this. smart or dumb? what do you say?

The consensus in the Twitterverse was, SEND A COVER LETTER. Here are some of the replies:

@HSDLaborEmp Should send cover letter. It’s an opportunity to show personality and promote why you’re interested in job/area.

@LizMatches omitting the cover letter seems like a staring contest!

@ValueIntoWords Include cover.

@JobHuntOrg Dumb. Not 100% read cover letters, but they connect-the-dots (jobseeker-job) for those who do. Missed opportunity.

@BeautyPR not sending a cover letter is dumb! sending one along with CV introduces you to hiring manager & encourages them to read on

It’s great advice, but I still think some of your cover letters will end up on the cyber trash heap never to be read. Lots of hiring managers I talk to say they just don’t have time and only read the resumes. In many cases, they’re using software to look for keywords in your resume and just read those that have specific skills they’re looking for.

“With the vast number of employment job board sites along with companies utilizing automated talent management systems, companies are receiving an unprecedented number of resumes for particular positions,” said Beverly Morgan, Principal Consultant in Winter, Wyman’s Human Resources division. “It is becoming increasingly difficult for internal recruiters to comb through the resumes and have the time to read each resume, along with lengthy cover letters.”

That said, she added, “it can’t hurt to send a cover letter with your resume - just be aware that it may not be read so make sure your resume is on target.  If you do opt to send a cover letter, have it be specific to the position that you are applying for and include any connections that you may know within the organizations to build a personal connection. It should not be a duplicate of what you have already articulated in your resume, but a few key highlights and how it specifically relates to the opening.”I know, it’s frustrating that there isn’t one clear-cut answer. If you’re sending tons of resumes out, or want to jump on a new job posting quick, you may not want to bother with a cover letter.

But if you come across a hiring manger like WBEZ’s Lara, you may end up hurting your chances.

What’s your take? Have you ever landed a gig without a cover letter?

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