The Importance of Individualizing a Cover Letter

I don’t hire people; haven’t hired people in years. But, I can still tell you that it’s important to make sure what you send to someone who does hire people is tailored to that particular job. I was reminded of this when I received an e-mail from a public relations person who wanted me to promote a book.

I know that this person did not tailor his e-mail to me at all for the following reasons:

1. He just starts out with the text. No salutation including my name. (Dear Evil HR Lady, or Evil HR Lady– or even, Hi Evil! which always cracks me up. You get extra points if you address me as Suzanne, which I have only occasionally mentioned, unless you follow me at US News, so I know you at least have done some reading.)

2. His second sentence is: “I think you do a great job discussing the significant issues and trends in HR today.” If significant trends include answering people’s questions and posting pictures warning against the evils of nose picking then he’s right. Otherwise, he’s never actually read my blog. I will admit, that once in a while I do comment on an HR trend, but it’s certainly not my focus. Any regular reader would know that.

3. He asks me to participate in a blog tour. I haven’t done any sort of book review or author interview in a long time. Asking is fine. If I really think your book is interesting, I might do just that. But, make some reference that you realize this is out of the oridinary for me

As an end result of this, I’m not going to even consider this “candidate.” I know I was just a person on a list and he hit “send” on a mass e-mail.

When your cover letter has these flaws, you also find your resume in that big delete file in the sky. Sending a resume is asking for something from somebody. If you are going to ask, at least take the time to get to know who you are asking.

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19 thoughts on “The Importance of Individualizing a Cover Letter

  1. Excellent point!

    Recruiting is part of my job profile and I've seen this happen way to often. As much as every resume counts, candidates aren't helping by including me in mass e-mails. It's equivalent to spam! That's not what a resume should be. Isn't it?

  2. But it sure makes it easier for the recruiter to screen out resumes if the letter isn't personalized.

    I use a similar technique with phone calls. Before I was married, if I got a call for "Mr Factotum," or heck, even "Mrs Factotum," I knew it was someone who did not know me. Made it a lot easier to end the call right away without listening to a sales pitch. Yes, I am polite. Polite but brief. Goodbye.

  3. Great post – too bad the people who could use it the most will probably never see it – or be able to implement it.

    Keep 'em coming! I enjoy your posts.

    – Barry

  4. As someone currently on the job search, I live in fear of someone deleting my resume unread and do my best to tailor my cover letter (usually the body of the email) to the postion. However, I am finding a great number of the positions I apply for do not provide any contact information, not even a name, and are applied to through an online form. In such circumstances, how can a job seeker truly personalize their cover letter?

    My paranoid side suspects that, in this job climate, those hiring are seeking to avoid being inundated with requests for follow-up by aggressive job seekers and are therefore trying to anonymize the process.

  5. I work on a gov't e-Resume review service so I see a lot of resumes and cover letters even if I don't do any hiring. It surprises me how many people send us resumes (particularly from overseas or out of province) thinking that we are actually a job placement agency or an employer. If you are including our email address as part of your job search then you really need to refine your research as our website makes it very clear what we are able to do.

    Anonymous – you make a good point about how some employers don't want to include that much information about the company. The key is to look at the job ad and try to pick out as many clues as you can and include those in the cover letter and resume. At least you can avoid looking like spam.

  6. Don't even get me started on resumes that aren't tailored to the job. I especially LOVE (insert sarcastic tone here) unsolicitied resumes with vague objectives that leave me guessing what type of job the person is looking for.

    This one came in today: "Objection: [I don’t think I have to say anything here] To learn new skills that will enable me to associate to everyday life [does this mean she has a dissociative personality?] and help me focus on my long-term goals, one of which is to enrol [sic] in a business degree program, thus enhancing my changes of becoming a successful entrepreneur."


  7. My two favourite cover letters are:

    "I would love to work for FMCG as the firm has such a good reputation" – if you don't know what FMCG is, you shouldn't be applying for a marketing role.

    "I have a Batchelor of Arts degree in…" but you still can't spell, and you can't possibly have a degree because if you did, you should have the intelligence to copy the word "Bachelor" off the degree certificate.

    I also have a soft spot (ha ha) for the bimbo who didn't want to apply for an airline cabin crew role, but wanted to know if any air hostess jobs were available.

    PS what is a blog tour?

  8. If there is a company name for the employer (and so often now, there isn't) I call the company and ask for the name of the head of HR, and that person's title. So far, the folks on the phone seem happy to provide that info. I then address my letter to that person.

  9. Sometimes, it isn't the job candidate's fault.

    Many applications today are done through an organization's online database.

    Most of these databases allow for up to 5 resumes and 5 cover letters. All well and good.

    Twice, however, I have applied to an organization (both colleges, I would like to add) where the database only allowed for ONE resume and ONE cover letter.

    This would have been okay, except in both cases I wanted to apply for a second position at the organization.

    Appling for the second job with the same resume was okay; But how about the cover letter? Do I reuse an irrelevant cover letter? Do I not use a cover letter for the second application? Or do I replace the cover letter so that the first application now has an irrelevant cover letter? In both these cases the organizations made it all very maddening!

    No surprise, really, that I never heard from either one.

    Another school, I did hear back from and went to an interview, had a copy of my resume that they printed out from their "database." The resume was unreadable, all formating was stripped out and the text was fully justified – it was just a bunch of letters filling up the page. The interviewer wanted to know what *I* did to my resume – didn't I know how to use Word?

    With nonsense like this from some recruiters it doesn't suprise me that some candidates are just playing a numbers game with recruiters. Good, maybe that will give me a edge!?

  10. I recently experienced a new low in cover letters when I received an unsolicited resume via email that had a cover email made up entirely of txt speak.

    Fail > Delete > Next….


    My collective experience of applications from a few years ago. I don't worry about formatting from our on-line app thing, because I know it screws up everything. I submitted a mock app for the first job I had to post to see what I as an employer got to see versus what an applicant put in. Now, if they send me an email with an attachment, I will consider formatting, depending on what the job is for. (My maintenance workers aren't expected to be computer wizards.)

  12. the difference between God and recruiters is….God doesn't think he is a recruiter.

  13. Evil HR Lady:

    You should use spell check, I have seen several "typos" particularly in your Post Headings, (see July 20 and 21 poss). And it just looks silly and doesn't add to your credibility.

  14. Evil – I received the same email you're describing a couple days ago. Very personalized…

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