Employers ask for a lot of things - cover letters, salary histories, desired salary, first-born son…the list goes on. But do you have to comply with all those requests, every single time?
Well, it depends. Your level of frustration with a job hunt - and ultimately how long it will take — is heavily determined by what sort of job market you’re in. Are you already being offered plenty of interviews for attractive jobs? Then you can pretty safely ignore all those extras that employers request. I’m sure your eldest son will thank you. But if you are not getting calls, maybe you should pack him a bag lunch and follow the rules.
But how do you know how strong your job market is? How sought after are your skills? Well, first you need a decent resume and you need to not be invisible. You’re probably invisible if your coworkers are all being recruited, and you’re stuck in neutral. The first rule of Recruiter Club? Get on LinkedIn. The second rule of Recruiter Club? Get on LinkedIn! Fill in as much info as you can, including a quality, professional-looking picture. Build out your network of contacts - connect with your colleagues and friends. You could be in a strong job market, and your specialty might be hotly desirable for recruiters and companies, but without LinkedIn, you’ll never know for sure. Being invisible on LinkedIn means modern recruiters won’t find you.
If a river of opportunities starts flowing once you've set up LinkedIn, then you might have some negotiating leverage. Your skills are currently in high demand, so when you’re applying for jobs, you can probably overlook some of those typical requirements — cover letter, salary history — without fear of repercussion. Most employers will call you anyway. Even better, you will likely have enough leverage to negotiate a higher salary. Check out my recent interview with compensation expert Kim Keating, so you can better level the playing field during negotiations. (By the way, don’t expect your hot streak to last forever; job markets are just as prone to supply and demand fluctuations as any other).
But if you've updated your profile and answered a few job ads, and the response is more like a trickle in a dry creek bed, take that as a sign that the market for your skills is not that hot. It doesn't matter how talented and wonderful you are, if there is an overabundance of talent in your field, then you’re just lost in the noise. You don’t have much in the way of leverage, so be sure to follow any instructions to the letter. Do all that you can to ensure you have the best chances of getting interviews and callbacks. You're one of many options, so forgetting a cover letter or ignoring salary requirements/history will easily get your resume thrown in the reject pile, since there are still plenty of candidates to choose from who followed instructions to the letter.