This is an excerpt from our guide “Global Guide to Personal Branding for Executives”

Nearly every time I talk with executives about their job search and the career documents they need, the long-standing question comes up…Do I really need a cover letter, and is it really being read? Some executives will tell me that they personally don’t read candidate cover letters (the reasons: they are usually not well written, sound canned, not tailored, etc.). Others will tell me that they do read them—some before they read the resume and others after they read the resume, looking for consistency between the two documents and interest in their company and the position.

They also tell me that a focused and well-written cover letter that supports the resume or CV will attract their attention over a candidate whose letter is poorly written or who does not provide one at all. So, can a cover letter distinguish you from other candidates and help you in your search? The answer: Yes, with some employers and some executive recruiters. Like many things in job search—there is no absolute—and you will never know which employers or executive recruiters want to read your letter unless they state this information (which they don’t typically do when you respond to a job post). However, when it comes to cover letters, the following points will guide you in what to do.

1.In General Executive Recruiters (Retained or Contingency) aren’t interested in lengthy cover letters, and some won’t read a cover letter, preferring to delve into the resume.

They do advocate a brief introduction inserted in the body of the email. In a BlueSteps webinar that featured a panel of three retained executive search consultants (US and international) addressing the topic of “Top Strategies for Networking with Executive Search Consultants,” the question about cover letters came up. They advised executives to write a brief introductory email (resume or CV attached to the email) stating the facts: the executive position you are seeking, your geographic preference, the reason you are in the job market if you are open to relocation, etc. Keep in mind that if you have a mutual contact that referred you, it’s also helpful to include that information in the opening line and even the subject line. As an aside, I want to mention that I personally know executive recruiters who want to receive a lengthier (one page only though) cover letter. They view the letter as an additional supporting document to introduce themselves (their ROI qualifications), get a sense of the person behind the “facts” and how they communicate in writing—all of which they say helps them to get to know the executive a little better as they initially screen documents.

2. According to surveys conducted over the years in the career industry, two-thirds of hiring authorities will read your cover letter

Some employers will read your cover letter first, some will read it after they read your resume or CV, and some won’t read it at all. Just like a lot of things, it comes down to a personal preference. Some job postings or applications mention submitting a cover letter and resume or CV. That’s always clear cut. Other employers don’t mention it, but don’t assume that your letter won’t be read if they don’t ask for it. So, unless you are told otherwise, include a cover letter—especially when it comes to posted jobs.

3. Write targeted, compelling letters that demonstrate how you are a mutually good fit with your target employer.

Be prepared and include a focused one-page cover letter or eNote (about 150 words or less pasted in the body of your email message) that compels your audience to open your resume and want to learn more about you. Start with an attention-capturing statement about your expertise and value proposition. For example, Your need for a CEO with deep experience in turnaround leadership that revives financial and operational performance to achieve sustainable, profitable growth is my expertise. Or…if you have a connection: John Marland, Vice President of Sales at Company X, suggested that I reach out you to about your company’s need for a Chief Marketing Officer. Make sure to provide specific examples of your contributions (a few) and strengths in the body of your letter. Match their needs with your promise of value and pinpoint the ROI you will deliver. Bottom line: You wouldn’t want to lose out on an opportunity because you didn’t include a cover letter for the hiring authority or executive recruiter that considers letters an important part of the job search process.

Download the full guide “Global Guide to Personal Branding for Executives”



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