Today, when we email CVs to recruiters and hiring managers, we simply pop a note in the email with something like “I would like to apply for xyz role, please find my CV attached” and if we are sending it through an online recruitment platform, the requirement to provide any narrative is even less. But, back in the day, the physical posted CV had to be accompanied by a cover letter – it was called a cover letter because it provided a cover note that explained why the heck we were sending this CV through the post.
The concept of a cover letter is therefore rather outdated but not because sending something in addition to your CV is a bad idea; it’s simply that the concept of sending a cover letter for the sake of sending one is flawed. My suggestion is that everyone in the recruitment lifecycle stops using old fashioned terminology (i.e. cover letter) and starts referring to this important document as a supporting statement. If everyone embraced this more appropriate terminology it would be much more obvious what the real purpose of the exercise is, which is to produce a document that dovetails with your CV and provides a compelling reason as to why a recruiter / hiring manager should consider your application.
A good supporting statement should identify the key requirements of the role and provide evidence that you, as the applicant, have the skills, qualifications and track record to add value to the role. One side of A4 should do the trick but for more senior roles when a supporting statement is requested, anything up to 3 pages might be appropriate.
The most common mistake that job seekers make is to simply pick out the key points on the job description and to do no more than say that they have had this experience at xyz company. Where this falls down is that being asked to perform a certain task doesn’t mean that you did it well! Providing evidence that you have a certain skill by giving a specific example with tangible evidence that you succeeded in that task is much more effective. In fact, we recommend writing evidence-based case studies in supporting statements to provide powerful evidence that you are a suitable candidate for the role, and taking this a stage further to explain how you can provide return on investment for the employer.