Last week, I shared a list of places where you can post a job description if you are hiring for your nonprofit communications team.
Today let’s talk about requesting a cover letter.
During a recent group call in the Communications Director Mentoring Program, we heard a presentation about hiring and job hunting from a participant who used to work as a recruiter.
She said the cover letter is often no longer requested and instead people upload resumes that are frequently reviewed and culled by software before being reviewed by a human. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that each resume you upload when applying for jobs is customized to the keywords used in the job description.
Most of the nonprofit communications directors were none too happy about this trend. They want to see those cover letters!
The group felt strongly that they wanted some indication of the applicant’s writing abilities (including no typos or grammar mistakes). But they also wanted to see a sense of style — did the applicant seem excited about the work and interested in the organization? Could you tell they had at least looked at the website or social media channels before applying? Were they able to market themselves in writing much the way the organization would expect them to market their programs and services? In other words, they really saw the cover letter as an integral part of the early hiring process.
If you look at recent discussions online about cover letters in nonprofit hiring, you’ll also find this split.
Many on the HR side say they don’t bother to read them and cover letters are an unnecessary burden for applicants who may be applying for dozens (even hundreds) of jobs. They encourage you to do a fabulous job with your resume and leave it at that. Some also point out that the cover letter requirement (and expectations for a certain style of writing) can become an equity issue when working with applicants who use English as a second language or who do not have university-level educational writing experience.
On the pro-cover letter side are mostly people who are either (1) hiring specifically for communications work or (2) believe that a cover letter is a great way to expand on your interest in the position when your resume doesn’t adequately convey that (for career changers, for example, or for people with large gaps in a traditional resume work history).
Here’s one hybrid suggestion that some nonprofits are employing: Ask for the resume only and then do your initial screen based on that only. Send a follow-up thank you with a form asking a few questions that can be answered in just a few sentences that will allow the applicant to elaborate and personalize their responses to you. That allows you to check on their communications skills, but only after they’ve made it through the first cut via the resume.
What do you think? Yay or nay on cover letters for nonprofit comms jobs?