How Important is the Cover Letter to a Human Resources Professional?

I recently read some interesting results from a number of surveys done by the Society for Human Resources Management regarding cover letters, resumes and avenues for getting hired. Results validated some of what I had always thought to be true, but also contradicted some of my other beliefs. Before I discuss some of the findings, I would add that these surveys were done between 2005 and 2006, so it is dated somewhat. Also, the respondents were all HR professionals and they do have a different agenda than an operational, hiring manager. So without further ado…

Cover letters without a resumes: 70% of the HR respondents stated that they would not look at a cover letter without resume, whereas only 14% would reject a resume without a cover letter. To state the obvious, your resume is your bread of your bread and butter. Whether you need the butter evidently is questionable? According to this survey of 351 HR professionals, the butter is not necessary.

Results are what they are; nevertheless, I think this result reflects that HR professionals tend to act as gatekeepers. And to the gatekeeper, the document with the most facts is the resume. Whereas, I think if you were talking about a hiring manager, the importance of having a well written cover letter shoots up quite a bit. I personally think that a compelling and persuasive cover letter will always work in your favor, without regard to the results of this survey.

Cover letters and resumes with typographical or grammatical errors: This is a no brainer, right? Over 86% of the respondents stated that they would reject an applicant based on this error. That is huge. But to add real red flags to this result, the same group stated that over 99% of them saw typos and grammar misses on the cover letters and resumes that they have received. Based on those two results, I would conclude 85% of applicants are rejected outright. Wow, that is huge.

There really is not excuse for being rejected for no proofreading your documents before you send it in.

Referrals and Personal Contacts: The absolute, most effective means of getting hired is through personal contact. 58% of executives, 67% of managers, and 65% of professionals were hired through this avenue according to the HR professionals that responded to this survey. The second most effective route was referrals which resulted in 44% of executives, 56% of managers, and 61% of professionals. In an interesting twist, headhunters were considered most effective for executives at 60%, yet only about 25% for professionals and managers. Conversely, over 68% for managers and professionals were filled through internal internet postings, whereas only 30% of executives were recruited internally.

By the way, I should note that the numbers do not all add up to 100%, as the respondents were allowed to give multiple answers to a question. This should be no surprise. Referrals (which is what internal postings are) and personal contact/networking are the most effective means of getting hired. What is headhunting other than a professional referral.

Job Fairs and Open Houses: I always knew these cattle calls were worthless. Have you ever been to a job fair that purports to target executives? Its effectiveness is 1% with executives, although it was higher at 3% for minorities. For managers, it was under 14% with minority only job fairs at 13%. Minority job fairs are also less effective for professionals at 20% versus 27% for general job fairs. Do not even bother attending open houses.

Job fairs, open houses, walk in traffic, and all the other miscellaneous avenue fared poorly with the surveyed HR professionals. I have had personal success here but I was always very targeted in what I did. I walked in with compelling arguments. If you simply pop up, the initial reaction will always be negative. HR professionals are gatekeepers. Gatekeepers like to follow rules. So, you want to get hired, do these things:

1. Send in mistake free resumes, by the way, chronological resumes with no employment gaps were most preferred.

2. Network and develop personal contacts who can then refer you for a position.

3. Job fairs, community organizations, open houses are all ineffective.



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