Podcast Episode #28 Do you really need a cover letter? with recruiter Nicola Crocco

Episode 27

In this episode, Leah talks to Nicola Crocco, Executive Recruiter/Director of Talent Effect about whether candidates really need a cover letter in the current job market.  In this episode we discuss the following:

  • Do recruiters actually read the cover letter?
  • Do you read the cover letter or the resume first, and why
  • What exactly are you looking for in the cover letter?
  • Do you have a preferred style of cover letter?
  • Is the video cover letter going to replace the written cover letter?
  • What are the most common mistakes that people make in a cover letter?
  • What is the most memorable cover letter that you have ever read, and why?

If you are interested in connecting with Nicola or her business partner Lisa Canning, you can connect with them using the following links:

LinkedIn – Nicola Crocco
LinkedIn – Lisa Canning
Talent Effect website


Leah Lambart 0:02
Welcome to the Relaunch Your Career podcast. I’m your host, Leah Lambart, Career and interview coach and Founder of Relaunch Me, where we help you find the work that you were meant to do.

Hello, everyone, and thank you for tuning in to listen to the relaunch your career podcast. Today, I am delighted to welcome back Nicola Crocco, executive recruiter and co founder of Melbourne based recruitment agency Talent Effect. Some of you may have heard Nicola on a previous episode where we talked about how you can take your interviews to the next level. And Nic, I’ve had such great feedback on that episode that I had to invite you back. So welcome back to the podcast.

Nicola Crocco 0:51
Thanks for inviting me back.

Leah Lambart 0:54
Nic, I asked you on today to talk about cover letters, because I think I get asked several times a week by clients, “do I still need to write a cover letter?” So I was really keen to talk to you as a recruiter who has to read the cover letters. So first of all, can I just ask you straight out? Do recruiters actually read the cover letter?

Nicola Crocco 1:16
This recruiter definitely reads cover letters. But I also know that there are recruiters who don’t,

Leah Lambart 1:23
I thought you might say that.

Unknown Speaker 1:27
Really, just to talk more to that point. That is my whole point about cover letters. Even if there’s the smallest chance that the recruiter will read it, then you must write one. Why wouldn’t you?

Leah Lambart 1:41
Well, that’s right. Because if a recruiter is looking for a cover letter, and you don’t provide one, it looks like you don’t really care about the role doesn’t only maybe are a little bit lazy.

Nicola Crocco 1:51
Exactly, exactly. a cover letter says a lot about a person’s motivation, attention to detail level of interest in the role, the brand the company, there’s a lot that can be read into a cover letter.

Leah Lambart 2:04
So tell me do you read the cover letter or the resume first? And why?

Nicola Crocco 2:10
This is a really interesting question. And it contrary to logic, I actually read the resume first and then I read the cover letter. Because I want the cover letter to speak and contextualize, speak to the resume and contextualize the experience. And often when I read a resume, I’ll have some immediate questions that will then be addressed by the cover letter. So I always read the cover letter second.

Leah Lambart 2:39
That’s exactly what I used to do as well. So if you’ve shortlisted a couple of clients and their resumes, when you compare them they are all pretty similar, what exactly are you looking for in the cover letter that may distinguish one candidate from another?

Nicola Crocco 2:59
That’s a really good point, I think that’s where cover letters come into their own. If you’re reviewing a few resumes, where the experience is very similar, the cover letter can actually make the candidate stand out. So what I’m looking for is, quite simply that it’s addressed to the right person, the right company, it references the right role. And you’d be amazed at how many cover letters I’ve read with this is not the case. And I want to see their motivation for applying to the position and then I would like to see a breakdown of the key selection criteria against the relevant experience. I’m also checking for spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and getting a bit of a feel for the personality of the person and whether they can put that across in the written word.

Leah Lambart 3:48
When our resume writers write a cover letter for clients, we always do try and keep it to one page. Do you think that’s an appropriate length for a cover letter? Or would it not bother you if it went over a page?

Nicola Crocco 4:05
I completely agree with you. I think if it’s more than a page, you will potentially run the risk of losing the interest of the reader. And if you write succinctly, you should be able to address those key points in one page.

Leah Lambart 4:19
Another quick question about the cover letter. Given that we now upload cover letters, usually online, and everything is via email, do we still need to put the address for the company?

Nicola Crocco 4:36
Yes, because it shows a level of detail and care in your application. And it particularly if you’ve gone in and you’ve researched who the actual hiring manager is and you’ve taken that care to address it to an actual person. It might set you apart from others.

Leah Lambart 4:55
Right. So that was leading to my next question. So if someone is not able to find the name of the recruiter or the hiring manager, how would you prefer to be addressed in the letter?

Nicola Crocco 5:06
I’ve thought about this, it really depends on your personality. I still see a lot of cover letters that say “Dear Sir / Madam”. It’s quite old fashioned, but it is still acceptable. You could say “Dear hiring manager” or you could be more casual if that’s more your style and say “Hello”, or “Hello there”. What do you think Leah?

Leah Lambart 5:28
Well, look, I guess I still think of “Dear Sir/Madam” but that’s probably because that’s what I used to read when I worked in recruitment. I’ve seen “Dear hiring manager”, I think I guess that’s, that’s fair. If you can’t find the name, what I didn’t like, though, was when I worked as a recruiter, and I would see see “Dear Leach”, instead of “Dear Leah”. And that didn’t go down so well.

Nicola Crocco 5:57
That attention to detail, right?

Leah Lambart 5:59
Yeah. When I was working internally with Allen’s which is National Law Firm, often it would be addressed to Minters or Mallesons, or one of our direct competitors, which also definitely didn’t go down well.

Nicola Crocco 6:13
I’ve had the same experience being on the agency side, I’ve opened up cover letters that have been addressed to my competitor for a slightly different role. And you can just see that the candidate hasn’t put the care into checking those details and sending the right document.

Leah Lambart 6:28
And look, it is such an easy mistake to make, but it’s just one that you can’t really afford to make, particularly in this current job market. So tell me, we’ve talked sort of about what you like to see in the cover letter. Our resume writers tend to write cover letters with some bullet points with some bold headings and key words that really jump off the page. Do you like to see some bullet points, because sometimes people will get horrified that we include bullet points in a cover letter? Because I guess the traditional style is lots of paragraphs. Do you have a preference?

Nicola Crocco 7:04
My preference is bullet points and subheadings and really addressing those selection criteria with bold, highlighted words so that the keywords are standing out. I think what what candidates need to realise as a recruiter is scanning and reading volumes and volumes of resumes, and cover letters. So the more you can help them visually with getting your key messages to stick out and pop out the better. So definitely, don’t be afraid of a subheading and a bullet point. Because it does, it’s much easier on the eye. And another fun fact that I read the other day was around justifying. So apparently, it’s much easier for your eye to read a paragraph that is aligned to lift and not justified because your brain can then chunk down the information and see where the thoughts begin and end. And actually, I’ve since I’ve learned that effect of really notice that that that is a that is a real thing for me.

Leah Lambart 8:11
Hmm, interesting. That’s a great tip.

Now a couple of my clients have recently had to submit a video cover letter. And I’m someone that I’ve always found video a bit of a hurdle. It’s something that I don’t really enjoy, particularly talking into a computer screen when no one’s at the other end. Is that something that is becoming more common? Have you seen that all clients asking for that?

Nicola Crocco 8:39
I haven’t had clients asking me for that. But then again, we work within the retail sector. And that can often be a more traditional type of sector and that they often don’t pour resources into recruitment practices. I haven’t personally seen it. But I know that there is a big movement around a lot of the Applicant Tracking System companies running webinars around incorporating video into your hiring processes. So I feel like it’s definitely coming and it’s something we need to be prepared for.

Leah Lambart 9:13
I think it will really suit some people, particularly those that are very tech savvy and have grown up, you know, taking videos of themselves on Tic Toc but I feel it may be difficult for candidates that are a bit like me, who don’t really like video and would prefer to sit down and write a traditional letter. But the clients that I was referring to before, I’m pretty sure they were like a startup or sort of a tech company. So I guess that makes sense. You’d almost expect it from them.

Nicola Crocco 9:42
My hope would be in any recruitment process that there could be a balance of the two. Because in any role, you are going to have to have some pretty good written communication skills and you might be really good verbally but not as strong in the written word and you need to have an option to display that.

Leah Lambart 10:02
Definitely. So can you tell us Nic, what are some of the most common mistakes that you see when reviewing cover letters?

Nicola Crocco 10:12
Yes. So as I’ve mentioned before, that one of the most common is that it’s not addressed to the right company personnel, and it’s in reference to completely the wrong job. And I’ll tell you now, this might seem a bit cutthroat. But if I open a cover letter that’s not addressed correctly, then I just shut it down and move on to the next resume. Because it says a lot about a person,

Leah Lambart 10:34
Wow, you don’t even look at the resume?

I would, well, I would have looked at the resume first, right, because that’s my method. And then I would have gone to the cover letter, and thought, “Ah, this person hasn’t even had the care to make sure that it’s addressed to the right person, and it’s referencing a completely different role”. So that might say a lot about that person. Seems a bit cutthroat, doesn’t it?

It does, but you know, you’re going to hire that person, you would hope that they would be paying a bit more attention.

Nicola Crocco 11:05
And you would hope that in applying for a job, it’s, it’s not something you you’re doing in a hurry and you’d be putting care into that process. So you’d hope that that care, then translated to writing to the correct person.

Leah Lambart 11:21
Okay. What are some of the other mistakes that you see?

Nicola Crocco 11:27
I see a lot of spelling and grammar and structural mistakes, just basic writing errors. And that’s actually something I use the cover letter for, quite strongly is to see, okay, what command has this person got of the English language in the written form, so that I see a lot of basic errors where you would have expected them to spell check and grammar check the document, but they haven’t. And then I see, the third thing is, I see cover letters that are too long. They don’t address the key selection criteria, and they become quite wordy and they lose my interest because of those things.

Leah Lambart 12:11
When I worked in recruitment, I always wanted to see that you’ve actually taken the time to understand what the priorities and the challenges might be in the job, that you might have had a look at the values on the website and got a sense of the company and what their services or products are, so that there can be some sort of personal connection in the cover letter that suggests that they’ve actually done some research.

Nicola Crocco 12:37
Yeah, absolutely.

Leah Lambart 12:39
A lot of our clients are applying for jobs where there is a requirement to write a cover letter, to upload their resume and to address key selection criteria in a separate statement. So obviously, this is more government type roles. If that is the case, do you have a sense of how detailed that cover letter needs to be? Would you still provide as much detail as you would normally?

Nicola Crocco 13:07
So you’re talking about in a separate document to the cover letter?

Leah Lambart 13:13
Yes. So they’ve asked for the resume and a separate statement addressing key selection criteria which can be like a two or three page document?

Nicola Crocco 13:24
My answer would be I think, if that were the case, then in the cover letter, you talk more to your motivation. So your personal aspects, so why are you applying a little bit about you, and why you feel a connection to the company or the organizational mission and values? So I’d really dial up the personal aspect of the application and then leave that separate documents speak to the key selection criteria.

Leah Lambart 13:51
I think that’s great advice, because the selection criteria is pretty dry. The cover letter is the opportunity to bring a bit of personality and show why the company’s of interest, that it is aligned to your values and that you feel it would be a good cultural fit.

Nicola Crocco 14:04

Leah Lambart 14:06
Is there anything else that you think candidates need to be aware of, particularly in the current job market when they’re submitting cover letters and resumes?

Nicola Crocco 14:17
One little tip that might help candidates if they if they are going to put effort into a cover letter, and inject a bit of personality into it, you could consider copying and pasting it into the front of your resume so that it’s one document so that then the recruiter only has to open one document and they’re almost forced to read the cover letter before they get to the resume in the one document.

Leah Lambart 14:46
That’s an interesting idea. I haven’t actually thought about that. I have seen that before. And it depends, I guess. Usually, they you could probably just upload the one document put new it doesn’t have to be two documents.

Nicola Crocco 15:00
Correct, correct. So that could be one way of getting around those recruiters that might be less inclined to read a cover letter. I think you know, in a in a role, where you know you’re going to be up against a lot of applicants with similar experience, you’re just looking for those opportunities to make yourself stand out and be a little bit different. So maybe that would be one way to sort of push the dial in your favour if you were to paste your cover letter into the top of your resume.

Leah Lambart 15:28
So when I worked in recruitment, I remember reviewing all the resumes in hardcopy.

Nicola Crocco 15:34
Yeah, those were the days, it just seems crazy now.

Leah Lambart 15:38
I had my highlighter and my list of things I was looking for. So obviously, I assume you’re reviewing everything online these days?

Nicola Crocco 15:47
Yes, in an effort to save the tree.

Leah Lambart 15:50
So does that mean that it is important, visually, for you to see a nice clean document?

Nicola Crocco 16:04
Definitely, definitely, because our eyes get very tired of looking at a screen all the time. So I find that those resumes where you’ve got some different columns and some different information running down the right hand side that might be more bite sized. And then you go into the detail through the left hand column, that’s a good style. There are so many different formats around. Equally though, I’ve seen that taken to the extreme where there’s too much information loaded into one page.

Leah Lambart 16:41
I think some of those resume templates so beautifully designed graphically. I guess the issue is whether they’re actually ATS friendly, yes, whether they can actually read them, often you see graphics representing the skills, they might be on a little graph or, you know, sorts of little graphics and I just wouldn’t be confident that an ATS wouldl actually be able to read those.

Nicola Crocco 17:08
There is a lot to be said for a good old fashioned style of resume and you can still make it look professional and the font that you use and the formatting. There is a lot to be said for that for sure.

Leah Lambart 17:20
Well, thank you so much, Nic. That was just a short interview today but I think there’s some great tips there for our listeners. It is something that I get asked all the time. So I hope that this interview has helped some people out there. Nic, thank you for coming on the podcast again and for sharing your wonderful tips.

Nicola Crocco 17:38
Thanks, Leah. Thanks for having me. And I hope that there is some pearls of wisdom there for some people.

Leah Lambart 17:43
I’m sure there will be. Thanks, Nic.