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Are Cover Letters Necessary?

Episode overview

On today’s episode of the Finding Career Zen podcast, Pete is joined by HR professional Ricky Baez to talk all about cover letters. Are they antiquated and unnecessary, or should job candidates take the time to write one when applying for a new position? Pete has a strong opinion on the subject, and his goal throughout the episode is to convince both Ricky and our listeners that a cover letter is absolutely worth the extra effort.  

Is Pete successful in persuading Ricky on the value of cover letters? Tune in to find out and hear why Pete believes all job seekers should use one!

22 minutes

View transcript

Why cover letters are necessary

  • Success in life and business comes with effort; it’s the differentiator between one person and another. If all things are equal, the one who puts forth more effort will be more successful. A cover letter will help you stand out from the crowd and set you up for the best chance to succeed.
  • The bigger the brand and more recognizable the name, the more applications a job posting will get. If you’re on the market and see a job you want, you need to separate yourself from the pack and put yourself in the best possible position for your resume to be selected for review. 
  • Cover letters personalize your resume. They make it more marketable. Job seekers should always go above and beyond and do things others probably won’t. The goal is to differentiate yourself.
  • Resumes are the cover to a book. A recruiter needs to be attracted to the cover ever to read it. They need a reason to pick up one book over another; a cover letter can give you that advantage. 
  • Recruiters must know that you are genuinely interested in and committed to the job. Cover letters are a great way to show that. They give you a big leg up and give the recruiter confidence that you’re serious.
  • You lose nothing in doing it. You lose all kinds of opportunities if you don’t write one. There is a 50/50 chance that your cover letter will make all the difference.

Additional resources

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome headshot

Pete Newsome is the President and founder of zengig, which he created after spending two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also the founder of 4 Corner Resources, the nationally acclaimed and award-winning staffing and recruiting firm he started out of a home office in 2005. Pete’s primary mission back then was the same as it is today: to do business in a personal way; with a commitment to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts.


Pete Newsome  00:01
You’re listening to the finding career zen podcast. I’m Pete Newsome. And I’m joined today by Ricky Baez, who I invited on to talk about a very specific subject because Ricky is an HR guy. 

Pete Newsome  00:13
And so this required an HR guy’s opinion today. Ricky, how are you doing?

Ricky Baez  00:16
Good, my friend, how are you?

Pete Newsome  00:19
I’m doing wonderful, new, and wonderful. I want to cut right to the chase because this is something that we have talked about in the past Ricky. 

Pete Newsome  00:27
And I don’t know that we sit on the same side of the table with it. And that is cover letters. All about the cover letter. 

Pete Newsome  00:36
So I saw a post on LinkedIn this morning, where recruiter a corporate recruiter said, essentially that they believe that cover letters are antiquated and unnecessary. What say you to that?

Ricky Baez  00:52
I agree. I agree that the cover letter is unnecessary these days. So yeah, I know I didn’t start off that way. At the beginning of my career, I thought that was necessary. But as I continued to do recruiting jobs, I continued to interview more and more. 

Ricky Baez  01:11
And I started to figure out how a recruit’s time is taken up in the day. Cover letters are a waste of time, in my opinion.

Pete Newsome  01:19
I thought that was going to be your opinion. And I’m going to convince you why that’s I’m going to change your opinion during this podcast today. 

Pete Newsome  01:29
And I’m going to look at the clock or minute 30. And by the time we get to 15 minutes, you will be on my side of the table. Are you willing to accept that? That challenge?

Ricky Baez  01:40
Why do I feel like I’m on America’s Got Talent? This looks like a magic trick about to happen. Let’s go. Alright.

Pete Newsome  01:46
Okay. So the so these posts, get lots of attention on LinkedIn. So this is my old man, get off my lawn statement that I’ll start with, where it’s, it’s all about doing less, right? 

Pete Newsome  02:01
Hey, you don’t need to do that it’s an unnecessary step, job searching is stressful enough. That was the sort of sentiment of this post. And the recruiter said your application is enough, right? 

Pete Newsome  02:14
The fact that you took the time to apply, shows enough effort. And I couldn’t disagree more with that. applying for a job in our modern era means clicking a button on a job board. 

Pete Newsome  02:29
That’s it if you couldn’t put forth less effort than clicking a button. 

Pete Newsome  02:34
So let’s just start with effort because I believe success in life and business comes with effort is usually the ditch differentiator between one person and another right, who’s going to be more successful? Well, all things being equal the one that puts forth more effort. 

Pete Newsome  02:52
So let’s just start with that. Do you agree? Do you think that applying for a job is something that requires effort today?

Ricky Baez  03:01
Absolutely. Absolutely. 100%?

Pete Newsome  03:04
You do? So click that button, that that that should be considered effort, and you should get a gold star for that. 

Ricky Baez  03:11
And to me, it’s not considered an effort.

Pete Newsome  03:12
It’s not considered an effort. Okay. Okay.

Ricky Baez  03:15
But it takes effort to apply for a job it’d be noticed today. Yes.

Pete Newsome  03:19
Okay. So well, well, wait a minute. That sounds contradictory to me. 

Pete Newsome  03:22
So if you’re, you’re going through, let’s say, you’re looking for a sales job. And you’ve gone to LinkedIn, or Indeed or CareerBuilder, or whatever job board you’re on. And you’ve typed in sales openings, and you get a list of them. 

Pete Newsome  03:37
Now to apply, all you have to do is click click a button. So individually applying for that job, you do think that requires effort or does not? So if you see it that way, I’m swell. That’s how I’m saying it. 

Ricky Baez  03:51
Yeah, that’s because I was shooting from I don’t just do the shotgun approach in exactly how you say you just start applying to all these jobs. I like to mold the job. 

Ricky Baez  04:01
Well, first of all, I’d like to pick a job that I’m definitely interested in. That’s just the money piece of it. But I kind of want to mold my resume to what they’re looking for without lying. 

Pete Newsome  04:13
Okay, that’s the effort that I’m talking about at that time. We’re not filling in the blanks here. You got to stick just with the data at hand, which is you applied for the job, which only requires clicking a button. Is that effort, yes or no? It is not. 

Pete Newsome  04:26
Okay. So that’s not an effort. Alright. Fair enough. Now, we know because that doesn’t require effort, that it gives candidates the ability to apply to a lot of jobs in a very short timeframe. You and you agree with that too, right? 

Pete Newsome  04:40
Okay, so what that means is when a recruiter posts a job, whether it’s a corporate recruiter or a third-party, recruiter for a staffing company, they get inundated with resumes and applications because it’s become so easy. It’s not like the old days, right? 

Pete Newsome  04:57
The days past pre-job board, you had to Do you email a resume, fax, or resume hand deliver a resume now, I would argue all those things take significantly more effort. 

Pete Newsome  05:08
And therefore, any job opening received significantly fewer resumes. So because it’s so easy job, postings get a lot of applications a lot. And the bigger the brand, the more recognizable the name, the more applications they get. And so if you’re a job seeker, you have to know that you need to know that. 

Pete Newsome  05:33
And so the point is recruiter was making was, hey, listen, that’s enough effort, you hit the button you applied, that shows me you’re interested, you don’t need to take the other step to produce a cover letter. 

Pete Newsome  05:46
So here’s, here’s where I disagree. And I’m going to start now convincing you to come Come on my side with this. Your goal is a candidate if you’re applying for a job, and you’ve already sort of led into this already. You said you’re going to customize your resume. 

Pete Newsome  06:05
Why would you do that for a specific opening?

Ricky Baez  06:09
I would want to put myself in the best position possible for my resume to be selected for review.

Pete Newsome  06:16
Okay, you want that? Is it fair to say you want to stand out from the crowd? Absolutely. Then you and I didn’t I feel like this is we’re in court right? 

Pete Newsome  06:24
Now, this is different, this is a different style than our typical podcast, but we’re gonna stick with yes or no questions. It’s good. Well, I’m on the clock, I have I’ve eight and a half minutes left to convince you. So you as a job seeker want to stand out. And I couldn’t agree more with that. That is the goal. 

Pete Newsome  06:42
If you are on the market, you see a job you want, you need to figure out how to separate yourself from the pack. Well, we’ve already acknowledged that there’s going to probably be a lot of applicants. 

Pete Newsome  06:53
Recruiters have to look through all of those and decide who they’re going to pull out from the pile. And you said you wanted to customize your resume for that role. It’s with that thought in mind, right? 

Pete Newsome  07:05
You want to be noticed you want to stand out? Correct?  Can you think of anything else that would help you stand out?

Ricky Baez  07:15
Since we’re asking those specific Yes, or no questions in the application process? Because where do I plan to stand the notice in the interview?

Pete Newsome  07:23
Well, you have to get that first. Right. Step one is to stand out from the pile of applicants. That how could you potentially do that? What do you think?

Ricky Baez  07:33
Well, I mean, I see what you’re leading me to. 

Pete Newsome  07:36
I’m not leaving you at all. I know, Judge I’m not leaving. I’m not leaving at all. I’m just asking witnesses you answer as you see fit.

Ricky Baez  07:46
Okay, so look, I, how I like to stand out is I don’t, I don’t focus too much on the resume as I normally would in the entire process. 

Ricky Baez  07:57
What stand out is I submit an application, I send it a resume, and I do some really good research to find that specific group recruiter on LinkedIn and connect with them directly. Ah, I plan the standing.

Pete Newsome  08:09
Okay, I like this approach. So you’re going to, dare we say put in more effort than the others literally. Okay. So you found this, this recruiter right? And who’s hiring for the role? 

Pete Newsome  08:23
And you’re going to contact them? Right? How are you going to contact them?

Ricky Baez  08:28
I sent him an email on LinkedIn, I got the premium account, and I got my InMail credit. And I word my message really specifically, I sent him an email to say, Hey, hello, I see you work for this organization. I apply for this role. Here is the rec number. 

Ricky Baez  08:44
I apply my resume is there. I would love a few minutes of your time, so I can learn more about this role. Now that’s going to do two things. If that’s the correct recruiter, maybe he or she will talk to me. 

Ricky Baez  08:55
But if it’s not he or she will direct me to the right person. Either way, I’m getting the right people.

Pete Newsome  09:00
So you send that message through LinkedIn. What if you find an email address for that person? Would you contact them that way? 

Pete Newsome  09:07
Absolutely. I will. Okay. And, boy, it sure does sound a whole lot like you’re sending them a cover letter. Ricky?

Ricky Baez  09:18
Oh, Pete. Yes, it does. It does. But I’m thinking about the cover letter, not from the candidate’s perspective. I’m thinking about the cover letter from a recruiter’s perspective. So you’re thinking from the candidate’s perspective?

Pete Newsome  09:33
Well, let’s look at it from both right? We have plenty of time. We saw five and a half minutes. We’re getting you there for us. 

Pete Newsome  09:40
So let’s look at you as a recruiter you have you need to hire for one opening and you’ve posted a job ad and you have 200 applicants and I think that’s a fair number to use, don’t you just as an average, right? 

Pete Newsome  09:53
Not very common. And you have to decide which ones you’re going to pick out of the pile. What’s going to cause you to Notice one candidate over the others?

Ricky Baez  10:03
So a normal recruiter. Yes, it’s if you see resumes, resumes, and a cover letter that’s going to visually stand out. But I know what cover letters do. What a cover letter is it personalizes your resume. 

Ricky Baez  10:18
That’s all it is. Your resume has all the ingredients, right? That’s what’s listed on the side of a mac and cheese box. And the cover letter is too beautiful a mac and cheese picture that you see at the supermarket. It personalizes it and makes it more marketable. 

Ricky Baez  10:32
The reason from a recruiter’s perspective is that I think it’s a waste of time, exactly as you said, if I have one position, I got 200 applications, and have a business partner that told me about this empty position three months too late. So now I have no time, I have an average of nine seconds for a resume, and the actual skill sets really stand out. 

Ricky Baez  10:52
So I’m going, to be honest, if I see your resume, I skip it. Because I don’t want to be wowed by how you articulated your skill set. I want to be wowed by your skill set. 

Ricky Baez  11:03
And that’s what I’m going to look at on your resume. Because at the end of the day, that’s what matters. And if you meet the minimum qualifications, I’ll invite you to want to see if the personality and the chemistry match.

Pete Newsome  11:14
So you have to stand out, right? So you’re the recruiter, let’s give the scenario and I’m the applicant. And you’ve posted a job you have your 200 resumes, and you’re you know, we all know what this feels like, you’re like, oh boy, I gotta screen through resumes, your eyes glaze over. 

Pete Newsome  11:30
And you see one that has a cover letter, and it says, Dear recruiter, I believe I’m the right person for the job. And here’s why. And it and, and it and it has your company name, and it has this specific job reference, right what you can’t do on a resume as effectively. 

Pete Newsome  11:51
And they send you a LinkedIn message. And they’ve sent you, let’s say, other things, well, I have to deliver this cover letter to you right, and I am adding other things. Because what I always recommend to a job seeker is to go above and beyond, and do the things that others are probably not going to do you. 

Pete Newsome  12:14
Your goal is to differentiate yourself. And I also for that reason, recommend using a third-party recruiter wherever you can, because our resumes don’t go in the pile. 

Pete Newsome  12:24
When you’re a professional recruiter, you deliver, you know, our my company for corner resources, because you’ve worked with us long enough, you know that our goal is to deliver a single resume for any one job opening because we do all this screening on the front end. 

Pete Newsome  12:41
And we believe that saves our client time. And that’s the value that we deliver to them. And when we send that resume, we never, ever do, we just send it without an explanation as to why we’re sending that candidate. 

Pete Newsome  12:56
So while we’re not writing in the form of a cover letter, it’s effectively the same thing. We’re describing why this candidate is a good fit for the role. And that gives a summary to the hiring manager or the HR Recruiter, whoever it might be to set the stage for why this candidate is worthy of interviewing. 

Pete Newsome  13:17
Don’t you want that when you’re the recruiter? And don’t you want someone giving more effort, making your job easy summarizing why they’re a good fit?

Ricky Baez  13:31
I mean, I do I do p in that would definitely be helpful. In standing out it would. But again, the way I’m looking at it is in the time that a recruiter has so following that same example, I got that pile. 

Ricky Baez  13:47
And I see that that one cover letter, and I started reading that cover letter because has a company name and is well written. And if that doesn’t impress me next, I wasn’t impressed by not even looking at the resume.

Pete Newsome  14:01
Okay, but why would that not impress you? 

Ricky Baez  14:05
Well, I don’t know. I don’t know. That’s what I’m saying. I want to be able to see the best information in nine seconds on average that I’m going to have first and I don’t want to make a decision on the book cover. Right? It’s because that’s essentially what I’m doing.

Pete Newsome  14:18
Well, that’s what a resume is. We know that I mean, I’ve maybe we disagree on that too. I think the resume is a cover to a book and the book, the text, and the book is individual and you’re never going to compare but you have to be attracted to the cover of the book in order to ever read it right? 

Pete Newsome  14:37
Or you have to have some reason to pick one book over another. And to me, that’s what a cover letter does as far as giving a candidate an advantage. 

Pete Newsome  14:48
I know if I know nothing else and I really don’t know anything else. When I’m looking through hundreds of applications. I see that this candidate put forth more effort so it’s it now, if they’re not qualified, it’s not going to matter. 

Pete Newsome  15:00
All right, we’re talking about standing out from the crowd only, setting yourself up for success, and giving yourself the best chance for that. That’s to me what the cover letter is. 

Pete Newsome  15:11
So I would recommend sending it in and snail mail to I’d send it through the Postal Service because that will be another differentiator. Now, I also recommend that candidates call directly and try to get the recruiter live. 

Pete Newsome  15:27
And so all of these things are not about making an unqualified candidate qualified, can’t do that, standing out there about standing out. So, I don’t have you convinced yet. 

Ricky Baez  15:39
I mean, no, I’m there, I’m there, it’s because I think you’re looking at it from the standing app perspective, I’m looking at it from the recruiter perspective, who has very limited time to really assess whether you pick this candidate or not. That’s how I was looking at it.

Pete Newsome  15:52
So one of the things that let me do as a recruiter is maybe this is a little bit different with third-party recruiters. But one of the things that that it’s important to recruiters is to make sure that candidates are genuinely interested in and committed to the job. 

Pete Newsome  16:10
And this is a way to show that and trust me, we recruiters in you know this well, it’s very difficult for us to do, to know who is really going to be reliable, who’s not, I mean, it’s a feeling out process. But if someone takes the time to do what others haven’t done, boy that that gives them you know, a big leg up. 

Pete Newsome  16:37
And it gives me confidence that that okay, they’re serious. If I know nothing else, I know they’re serious. Here’s the other thing. And this is what came out of this. It could hurt to know how so?

Ricky Baez  16:49
Because I remember when I was working at the county years ago, and I was recruiting for a position, I guess somebody was given advice that you really want to stand out with your resume and cover letter. 

Ricky Baez  17:00
The cover letter was in a bright fuchsia paper, Dalston perfume stunk up, and the whole office went right into the shredder. Shredder, I’ll say okay.

Pete Newsome  17:10
Well, okay, so she stood out. So please go on 10 gig.com we have we offer lots of advice and templates and guidance on on cover letters. 

Pete Newsome  17:22
And none of that involves using scented paper, but fuchsia bright. Now. Here’s the other interesting thing that I read through on this LinkedIn post today. 

Pete Newsome  17:35
So of course, it gets lots of attention, right? This is it’s a controversial thing. I guess if we want to use that or not to be dramatic in the world of recruiting right to cover letter or not to cover letter. Controversy. 

Ricky Baez  17:50
We’re in a good world, brother.

Pete Newsome  17:50
Yeah, well, we shouldn’t be so lucky, right? But here’s the thing. There’s there were 2000 comments when I saw the Post this morning. 

Pete Newsome  18:00
And it looked to be split down the middle, and half had your opinion, half have mine. So if you’re a candidate, and here’s, you know, I didn’t make my 15-minute window, I’ll get it within 20. But this is what’s going to convince you fully. Take my word for it. 

Pete Newsome  18:15
I think you will that half about half said yes. I want to see cover letters, the other half. I said, you know, don’t you want to Isn’t it worth the chance? And isn’t it worth it if half are like me who say this is going to help you stand out? Isn’t it worth it? 

Pete Newsome  18:34
Because you don’t know which half that’s going to be when you’re sending in your application? If it’s a job you’re genuinely interested in. So as a candidate, Isn’t it worth taking that step?

Ricky Baez  18:45
So from a candidate’s perspective, absolutely. It’s worth it. It’s worth it because you lose nothing in doing it. And you lose all kinds of opportunities if you don’t write because it’s a 50/50 chance. Oh, I get it.

Pete Newsome  18:56
Your Honor. I think I rest my case.

Ricky Baez  19:02
Wait a minute. Wait a minute. He was Lee I’m the outcome. 

Pete Newsome  19:05
You know, we’re recording this right.

Ricky Baez  19:06
Yeah, we are we are. But again, we again, I did say that my position has always been from the recruiter side. Not from the candidate’s side. 

Ricky Baez  19:15
So from the candidate’s side. Yes, you would stand out, you really would stand out. But if those 2000 comments are anything, if a split down the middle is 50/50 Then yeah, I definitely agree. 

Ricky Baez  19:28
Pete go ahead and do it. Because you are better off doing it than not to, to stand out. Just don’t stand out too much for the wrong reasons. But yeah, I’m with you. I maybe I say I’m 50% there.

Pete Newsome  19:42
Okay, I’ll take it. I’ll take it but as a candidate, if I Yeah, that’s really who we’re here. Trying to help with this advice is and I’ll close with this Ricky. I did it. 

Pete Newsome  19:58
I never liked seeing it but Ice when it is slanted towards recommending that the candidate does less, because I’m fully on the other side of the fence with that, where I recommend to candidates do more do the most they can do to set themselves up for success provided that’s a job you genuinely want to pursue. 

Pete Newsome  20:21
So I do recommend writing a letter along with it. I recommend putting forth effort and trying to find the hiring manager or the recruiter who’s responsible for the job, not only should you contact him through LinkedIn, perhaps you should consider sending them mail, you know, through the Postal Service, all right, I mean, it, it works, it catches people’s attention and pick up the phone and call them. 

Pete Newsome  20:51
Because that is you have to find a way to stand out and trust me if you’re unaware of this. Well, you may all see the complaints that recruiting people send their resumes to a black hole they never hear back. Well, it’s because so many happen. You said nine-second CEOs, the time a recruiter looks at a resume. 

Pete Newsome  21:12
So what’s going to make your resume the one that gets pulled out of the pile? That’s up to you. Are you willing to do what others aren’t? You know, Jerry Rice said it best I won’t try to beat him. But that’s why he was successful. Right? They said he’d do what others weren’t willing to do. So same thing with a job search. Before the best effort.

Ricky Baez  21:35
Alright. I’m with you. 

Pete Newsome  21:37
Case closed for appeal. All right. Thank you for listening. As always we’d love any feedback that you have. So rate and review give us five stars please and Ricky thanks so much. This was f asun always.

Ricky Baez  21:52
Have a good one folks. Appreciate it. Drive safe.