Given the variability of the job market and workplace norms, it can be difficult to keep track of expected job search etiquette. When exploring virtual positions, do you still need to add a custom cover letter? Virtual Vocations explores the facts and fiction around telecommuting cover letters for jobseekers looking for work in the new year.
Telecommuting Cover Letters: Are They Obsolete in 2018?
A cover letter is meant to be an introduction from you to a potential employer. It is the narrative partner to your resumé, providing concise, creative context to your experience and bridging the gap between what the company is looking for and what you have to offer.
With an increase in fully automated online job applications complete with skills tests and in-depth questions, you may wonder, are telecommuting cover letters still relevant today?
When Submitting a Cover Letter Is Optional
In the past, the Virtual Vocations team has provided insight on how to craft the perfect cover letter for your remote endeavors. We have also encouraged remote job seekers to edit their cover letters to make them appeal to the hiring manager. However, if an online job application labels a cover letter as optional, you may feel conflicted about extending the extra energy to craft one.
Some career experts confirm that when hiring managers are bombarded with applications, they have neither the time nor the desire to read your clever and well-crafted cover letter.
When a job posting from a remote-enabled company specifies that cover letters are optional, this may be an indication that the document doesn’t weigh in high enough in their decision-making process to be a requirement. On the flip side, some companies could use optional cover letters as a way of gauging which candidates are willing to take the extra step, even when not mandated to do so.
Make your decision on whether or not to include a cover letter based on the language presented in the job posting. Does the hiring manager use phrasing such as “we’re looking for an overachiever” or “we value workers who will go the extra mile”? If so, you should take the time to submit a cover letter. However, if the job description is focused on skills like research, time management, and efficiency, you may not need to spend your time writing and submitting a letter that won’t be viewed as valuable.
Another factor to consider when deciding whether or not to send an optional cover letter is the application structure.
The amount of space provided for your cover letter and the methods available to submit your letter should help you decide how much time to invest in the cover letter writing process.
If you are provided a word count, your cover letter should be short, concise and impactful. Focus on what the job posting describes as the position’s main objective and use active language when describing why you are the ideal candidate to meet the company’s needs.
When employers recruit remote candidates, they have to use all the tools and information available to be sure they make the right decision. The same is true for you as a jobseeker. Use your intuition and your experience in your field to determine the best way to respond to an optional request for a cover letter.
When a Job Application Provides No Space for a Cover Letter
If you begin a job application and discover that there is no place to submit a cover letter, pause and consider your strategy.
Does the application give job-specific scenarios or ask you to describe examples of previous projects? If so, this is a way hiring managers get cover letter-like information in a manner that works best for them.
Use the provided question to present the best picture of your fit for the role. Use your resumé as a guide and be sure to provide answers to each question in full.
If you’re asked to present a scenario of how you’ve handled a situation, this is your chance to connect the dots between the job requirements and how you can add immediate value to your work.
Focus on measurable outcomes, provide a solid foundation for your contributions and establish a clear picture of your knowledge. Additionally, be sure to specify what you gained from the experience and how you translated that experience into further growth.
In contrast, if you are asked to write about a particularly difficult situation, the hiring manager is looking to read about how you transformed a trying circumstance into a success.
Focus on the takeaways, process changes, and growth. Avoid blaming co-workers, harping on mistakes, and using negative language. You want to illustrate your resiliency, your ability to shine under pressure, and your skill in managing multiple facets of the work environment.
If a company does not provide space for a cover letter, Lifehacker suggests forgoing it entirely and focusing on perfecting the other aspects of your application.
The design of your resumé is very important. Consider modernizing your format and getting rid of some of the outdated aspects. Virtual Vocations provides 7 Tips for Writing a Memorable Resumé to help you stand out from the first glance at your employment documents.
When You Are Asked to Not Submit a Cover Letter
Do not provide a cover letter if a job posting specifically asked you to omit it. Rule number one of the job application process is to strictly follow all provided instructions. If a company states not to add something, don’t. Instead, rigorously focus on what they do want you to provide.
Just because you can’t attach a cover letter doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to impress. We live in a world of social connections. Do some research on the company and take a look at your social network and see if you have any mutual connections. The more you understand the work culture of a company, the more you can appeal to them.
Doing a job well is about having a good mix of the necessary skills and the right cultural fit. It is just as much your job to evaluate your likelihood of enjoying a work environment as it is a hiring manager’s job to employ the right candidate in a vacancy. If you are put-off by the wording in a job description or feel uncomfortable with any of the requirements, it’s time to search for other openings. It is much better to abandon an application than to be invited to join a team of which you don’t really want to be a member.
How to Stand Out Without a Cover Letter
Cover letters are only one way of standing out among the competition. Social media provides you with a great advantage. Curate your social media presence to be professional. Your personal brand will help employers get a sense of who you are and if you fit well into the team they are cultivating. Additionally, your social media networks can help you identify positions, network with potential employers, and attract the interest of your target demographic.
If you wonder whether or not you need to engage with Linkedin, Instagram or other social sites, the answer is yes. Although you do not need to invest in every platform, you should pick a few that are popular in your field and remain active.
Social media provides an ever-expanding garden of industry knowledge—one to which you can also contribute. The more value you can add to the conversations happening in your field, the more valuable you will be to potential employers.
Along the same lines as social media branding is your online portfolio. If you are looking for a remote or virtual position, you should have a digital portfolio. Your online work examples and formats will vary based on your field, however, no matter what industry you are in, it is crucial to have a place to send employers. Whether you utilize a personal website or one hosted on a designated site meant to showcase portfolios, you should regularly update your online real estate with your latest and most impressive material.
If you are just starting out in your industry, or are in the middle of a transition, there are simple ways to begin creating a bank of quality work online to show employers. You do not need to have a paid position to begin generating portfolio-worthy material.
Take a look at companies you would love to work for in the future. What kind of content are they generating; what kind of campaigns, clients or products do they feature? Use these factors as a guide to begin crafting some portfolio examples.
Begin a blog to keep up with industry news or start a new social media handle dedicated to your craft. There are thousands of ways to get involved, but the first step is to research your field and know your competition. This information will keep you sharp and help you evolve your work.
When you come across a special job posting that really grabs your attention, consider crafting a few pieces for your portfolio that speak directly to that job. If you are a designer and you want to work for a sneaker company, sketch some unique logos or design a mock marketing campaign. Your effort won’t be wasted. Even if you don’t score the job on your first try, this material can be used for the next exciting opportunity.
Consider participating in online networking opportunities such as live social media events or webinars.
The more you can engage with industry leaders, the more you will learn and the better you can tailor your approach to the job search process.
Over time, you will be able to not only listen in on conversations but also contribute to them. This kind of engagement will help you reach your most ambitious goals.
In essence, our cover letters are extensions of our personal brands. Employers have high expectations and want to be sure that you can talk a good game and back up your pitch with deliverable skills that will continue to deliver long after you are hired. In an immensely competitive virtual job market, you have the advantage of ongoing opportunities to sharpen your skills.
The Verdict on Telecommuting Cover Letters
Telecommuting cover letters aren’t quite obsolete in 2018, but they also aren’t the be-all and end-all of an employer’s hiring decision. Understand that telecommuting cover letters may still help you score your next position and, even in the current job market, when asked to produce a cover letter, you should be more than prepared to deliver.
Continue to craft beautiful and impactful cover letters for employers who welcome them, but, in addition to this traditional aspect of the job-seeking process, incorporate some new tools that will help you push past the expected and develop some truly unique selling points.
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