A cover letter provides a formal, written introduction to a company, a resume or a CV submission. Job-seekers can use cover letters to stand out from other applicants by focusing on their skills, experience and objectives. A cover letter is not appropriate in every job-hunting situation, however, and cover letters can actually harm your chances of being picked for certain jobs. Understanding the disadvantages of cover letters, and when they are appropriate, can increase your job-hunting effectiveness.
The biggest drawback of a cover letter stems from its largest advantage. The same way a cover letter can make you seem well qualified for one position, it can make you seem overqualified for another. If a job seeker mails in a cover letter and resume for a position for which hiring managers are accustomed to receiving phone calls and application forms, the managers may dismiss the ambitious job seeker outright as being overqualified for the job. If a job requires a specific skill-set, and your cover letter highlights unrelated skills, you can actually make a bad impression or cause hiring managers to skip over your resume entirely.
Creating a cover letter is both a science and an art, requiring a mixture of psychology and finesse to stand out. Poorly crafted cover letters can turn prospective employers off right away. Cover letters should always focus on the benefits the company can realize by hiring the applicant. Not every job applicant knows this, however, and too many applicants fill their cover letters with their own goals, needs and ambitions. The statement, "I am seeking employment with a company offering career and income growth opportunities," for example, can cause an HR manager to view a candidate as self-serving and potentially disloyal, even though the statement sounds perfectly professional.
The most effective cover letters are custom-tailored to each prospective employer for maximum impact. This can increase the amount of time required to apply for each job, possibly resulting in fewer resumes being sent out and missed opportunities. Job seekers can send resumes out quickly, allowing them to canvass numerous potential employers in a short amount of time to cast a wide net. Creating cover letters increases the work required to look for work. If a job seeker tries to save time by using the same cover letter for all applications, the letter can actually become counterproductive by communicating impersonal, generic messages.
The advantages of cover letters outweigh the disadvantages in a range of situations. In the right setting, a thoughtful cover letter can convey an image of professionalism and make a positive first impression. Cover letters can reinforce your interest in a position, and can display your attention to detail and internal motivation.