A reader writes:
I think I have inadvertently committed a cardinal job-searching sin. Here’s the necessary backstory: I’m a recent college grad (June ’14) looking for a job in a STEM field. I signed up for a job-search group run by a local career counselor, and it was very helpful regarding resumes, cover letters, networking, etc. A woman in the job search group has a friend who works for Local Biotech Company (henceforth known as LBC) and kindly offered to have this friend, “Laura,” refer me to LBC. I have never met Laura or even corresponded with her over email beyond thanking her for the referral.
“Joanne,” the woman who runs this group, told me that when you’ve been referred for a job you do not need to submit a cover letter with your application. I explicitly clarified this with Joanne a few times, since it seemed too good to be true, but she was adamant. So I applied for a few jobs at LBC after I was referred and just uploaded my resume, leaving the “upload cover letter” field blank. I never heard back from them but I didn’t read too much into that because hey, it happens. This was in November of last year.
Then several months later I found your fantastic website, and as I read some of what you’ve said about the importance of cover letters, my heart sank. I now find it extremely unlikely that I actually did not need to submit a cover letter and I’m cringing at the thought that I’ve forever blown my chances at getting a job with LBC.
My questions for you are as follows: First, is it true that you don’t need to submit a cover letter for jobs you’ve been referred to, even if you’ve never met the person referring you? Second, is there any way for me to salvage this situation and re-apply to LBC? If I do reapply, how should I address my previous cover letter-less application (if I should address it at all)? And should I reach out to Laura and…I don’t know what I would say to her, actually. Apologize for being clueless?
There are indeed times when you don’t need to submit a cover letter because you’ve been connected through a personal referral. I will sometimes say to a candidate who’s coming through a personal referral who I know and trust, “No need to send a cover letter — just shoot over your resume.” It’s because I know based on the referral that I’m going to want to interview the person regardless and their cover letter is unlikely to change my mind on that, and so I don’t want to make them jump through a hoop for the sake of hoop-jumping.
But the key is that the only person who has standing to make that call is the person who’s doing the hiring. No one from outside the company has standing to decide that on the company’s behalf.
And this career counselor presenting this as a blanket rule that you should always follow? Totally off-base. She did you a disservice (and unfortunately you should now probably be skeptical of other advice she’s given you too, because she was really off-base on this one).
That said, is this a cardinal job-searching sin? It is not. It may indeed have torpedoed your chances for those particular jobs — or it’s possible that you wouldn’t have been interviewed for those jobs anyway, who knows. But you definitely don’t have a black mark in your record with them; they’re not recording a shocked statement anywhere that you are the heathen who didn’t send in a cover letter.
The next time you see a role at LBC that you’re interested in applying to, apply and include a cover letter. Make it a good one — personalized, engaging, blah blah blah. And then send Laura a quick email saying something like, “I wanted to let you know that I applied for the X role at LBC. I’d be so grateful if you’d be willing to refer me again, and I’ve attached my materials here as well.”
However. I also wouldn’t put too much weight on Laura’s referral, even if the whole cover letter situation had never happened. A referral from someone who doesn’t know you isn’t worth very much to a company. Some companies do have referral systems that will give those applications a special look, but in general hiring managers care about referrals from people who can vouch for your work, not ones from people who just traded an email or two with you.
So, the good news here: It’s very unlikely any of this has blown your chances for being considered by this company in the future. The bad news: This job search group is probably not as helpful as you thought it was, on a couple of different fronts.