Cover Letters, Objective Statements, & References – In or Out?

I get asked questions like these frequently:

  • Do I need to write a cover letter?
  • Do I need to have an objective statement?
  • Does anyone ever call references?

I’m going to answer these in one big, sweeping answer and then we’ll drill down and see what that means in terms of each individual question.  Sound good?

Rule of thumb:  Everything in your resume or in your full application package needs to matter.  Everything should be relevant to the position you are applying to and in some way speak to your skills fit, culture fit, or motivation to work at that company and in that role.  Anything that doesn’t fit that rule of thumb, can be omitted.  

Breaking the rule of thumb down:

Do I need to write a cover letter?

I give you a qualified “Yes”.  Keep in mind, a bad cover letter might do more harm than good.  A good cover letter fits within the rule of thumb (see above) perfectly.  If you are helping to illustrate any or all three big points: skills fit, culture, fit and motivation – and – if you are highlighting information that isn’t included or could be overlooked in your resume.  Don’t repeat your resume or provide information that wouldn’t be crucial to the hiring manager.  If you are tempted to use a form letter you’ve found online or only make a small variation to a template – don’t bother.  Recruiters can smell a template from a mile away.  Keep your information genuine and helpful.

Do I need an objective statement?

This is very much the same answer as the one I gave for the cover letter.  If it helps frame your resume well or gives new information that wouldn’t make sense in another section – include it.  An objective statement should be very specific to the company and position you are applying for – or maybe exist more as a “career summary” statement.  Include one of these especially if you’ve changed careers or a recruiter might have trouble making sense of your resume without a solid anchor at the beginning.

Does anyone ever call references?

Yes.  Recruiters call references, but usually not at the beginning of their recruitment process.  This is why you can leave them off your resume if you choose (unless specifically requested in a job posting).  Recruiters will ask for references if they need them and you haven’t included them on your resume.  If you leave references off, have them ready anyway.  Additionally, you do not need to include the words “references available upon request”.  This is a given.

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