Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Are You Buying the Mac & Cheese of Job Search?

So much of today’s job search advice is like Mac & Cheese. It’s comfort food. It’s not very good for you, but it’s comfortable…it makes you feel good.

Like Mac & Cheese, this advice is very popular – you see it everywhere. Just as Mac & Cheese isn’t an efficient food source, this advice won’t make your job search efficient. But it WILL make you feel good, like you’re doing the right thing, because you see this advice everywhere.

So how can you tell what advice is Mac & Cheese? Examples of job search comfort food are cover letters. Think of how many articles you see, and how much advice a candidate receives about how to write a perfect cover letter. It’s comfortable advice that we’ve heard since we were originally taught to type them…on typewriters.

But cover letters just don’t work today. At best, cover letters are an obsolete tradition. But cover letters can work against a candidate, providing much more of a disadvantage over any potential advantage.

Here’s why cover letters are like Mac & Cheese:
  1. Hiring Managers usually don’t get cover letters. I talk to 60 executives per month, and each one tells me how they hire candidates. About 66% of the time, hiring managers tell me they don’t even get cover letters from HR departments or recruiters. Recruiters and HR departments often don’t see cover letters, even though they are asked for within the ads they place.

  2. Hiring Managers only see about a dozen resumes per position, out of thousands of applicants. HR departments and recruiters use databases to pre-screen resumes. These systems, called Applicant Tracking Systems, search resumes by keywords, allowing the HR screener or recruiter to pick the resumes that best match the keywords being searched…just like we do every day on Google. Most Applicant Tracking Systems don’t keyword search cover letters, only resumes.

    Most candidates sent the same static resume to the jobs they apply to, hoping that the words in their resume happen to magically match the words being searched for. The odds are lousy.

  3. It’s a published statistic that most hiring managers make an interview/non interview decision in an average 15 seconds. In 15 seconds you can’t read both a resume and cover letter. Which do you think most hiring managers read first?

    I’m running a poll currently on Linkedin, asking hiring managers which they read first…80% read the resume first. Anecdotal evidence I hear each month puts that percentage at 90% who read the resume first.

    I’m currently running another poll on Linkedin, asking candidates if they send a cover letter, or include a customized resume…over 92% send a cover letter, most customize the cover letter, and 4% just send a static resume with no cover. Just 4% send a customized resume.

    Isn’t that gap eye opening? 92% put their customization into a document that’s rarely seen.

  4. I hear anecdotal evidence from hiring managers about the impact of cover letters if they get them and if they read them. I’ve rarely heard of an instance that a cover letter will talk a hiring manager into an interview, if the resume doesn’t first clearly demonstrate they meet the key hiring criteria. On the other hand, I hear stories all the time from hiring managers who recall times that a cover letter that gave additional information talked the candidate out of an interview…because they revealed information that was inconsistent with the hiring manager’s needs, or made mistakes on the cover letter.
As digital resumes exploded the competition that candidates face, and flooded HR departments/recruiters, these groups developed process improvements that reward candidates who heavily customize their resumes…and penalize candidates who don’t or who customize a different document.

Other Mac & Cheese examples are generalist resumes, broad opening summaries, lack of clarity of what a candidate is looking for and why they’re the best choice.

So what are you buying in your job search? Mac & Cheese? Or Smart Food?

Executives exploring Career Change: For a free 30 minute resume consultation, or career advice for executives, email your resume confidentially to reCareered (, and we'll schedule a time to talk.

Staff, Managers, Entrepreneurs, and career changers outside the US: Send your resume to to enroll in a free group teleseminar "Accelerate Your Job Search - tools you can use".

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