Dear Matt: I have an outstanding track record as an executive with some pretty successful companies. I've been unemployed for four months and am not getting any interviews. I've always focused on perfecting my résumé because I heard recruiters don't put much emphasis on cover letters anymore, but I'm starting to think I may need one. So, I wanted to ask you, do I really need a cover letter?

Matt says: If you want to do everything possible to stand out from the rest of the competition, then yes, absolutely, you need a cover letter.

I've heard the rumblings too — not every recruiter spends time reading cover letters, but some, like Twin Cities-based executive recruiter Diane Steele (, find value in cover letters — and so, therefore, should you.

"With competition for top positions very tight, a well-written cover letter will separate the good from the great," said Steele. "After reviewing résumés I turn to the cover letter to see if there is a compelling story behind the résumé. If there is, that candidate will move to the top of the pool."

While each recruiter has their own personal opinions on cover letters, most are in agreement that writing a cover letter is a standard part of the application process, shows professional courtesy and serves as a simple test to see if you are willing to take the extra time to show how much you want the job. I also know recruiters, Steele included, who have eliminated candidates from consideration because they didn't provide a cover letter or because it included misspelled names, was addressed to a different company or hastily written.

It doesn't have to be long — never more than one page for executives and experienced candidates and only half a page for entry-level candidates, says Steele.

"Spend the time to tell your story in the cover letter, highlighting your applicable experience, why you are interested in joining their team and what sets you apart from the rest," advised Steele.

When recruiters organize a candidate binder/folder in preparation for interviewing, they often place the cover letter on top of the pile as the first item introducing the candidate. The cover letter may not have been the first thing the recruiter read, but it does create a lasting impression of who you are and what you offer. So, why not take the time to provide that info and sell yourself as the best candidate? Especially if you are an executive.

"For me, it's the expectation as an executive that you put the time and thought into writing a good cover letter to assist in selling yourself as the best fit for the job," she said. "Don't rely solely on your résumé to speak for you."

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