In two recent articles – one from Elevate Talent Network, and the other from The Huffington Post – it is being inferred that the cover letter is dying, or has died. This post is not to persuade the converts. It is purely to stand up for the cover letter even if we are witnessing its demise.
Are Cover Letters a Waste of Time?
In February, a few recruiters met with about 80 residents of Liberty Village in Toronto to discuss job search strategies. In answer to the question, “Should I write a cover letter?”, they responded with a resounding and unanimous ‘NO’. The blog post about the event stated “Cover letters were seen by far as a waste of time. Recruiters don’t have the time or the inclination to read your cover letters.”
When I read it, I wondered aloud if it was or is an absolute that exists in recruiter-land. But No! Many people involved in hiring have said the same thing. I was speaking with a human resources manager in one of our regional governments a couple of years ago, and she said that they did not require cover letters, yet they want to see an Objective on the resume. Well, let’s say the Objective requires another debate.
What About the Other 50%
In a survey I conducted several years ago with Canadian HR Managers, recruiters and others involved in hiring, 50% of them indicated that they did not want to see a cover letter, or that cover letters didn’t matter one way or the other. I wondered then about the other 50%.
My colleague Maureen McCann mentioned a time when she was pitching a workshop to human resource managers in one government agency. When she asked the question about cover letters, she received a 50/50 response. This is a quote from Maureen:
“For the 50% who said cover letters remained an important part of the application process, a number of them went further to explain the cover letter is an essential part of the application process. So much so, that the application instructions specifically read (in bold text):
“In addition to your application, you are required to submit a cover letter which demonstrates clearly in writing with concrete examples how you meet each of the essential Education, Experience and the Asset qualifications. Resumes will only be used as a secondary source to validate the information provided in the cover letter.”
There is certainly a valid argument against cover letters. Time is definitely an issue for recruiters who want to fill a position quickly. And as one of the recruiters said in a response to me, “…with the wide spread adoption of the ATS they [cover letters] don’t often make it into our hands (even if we were inclined to read them).”
But what happens to those recruiters and hiring managers who want to see a cover letter? How will a candidate know which ones want or do not want to read a cover letter? Some companies request in their job postings that candidates submit a resume and cover letter. The website of one provincial government asks that the cover letter be combined with the resume and submitted as one document.
The Huffington Post article mentions Allan Jones, chief marketing officer for recruiting site ZipRecruiter, who points out that while some cover letters “… are uninspired copy-paste form letters [they] can still be effective in some cases, especially when they are personalized and reveal specific reasons why a candidate might be a good fit for a position.”
Who Will Stand Up for the Cover Letter?
With such diverse opinions, it’s hard to know which way to go. As a result, I have listed below three simple reasons why the cover letter may still have a life:
- Job seekers do not know what side of the 50% cover letter equation some recruiters fall. Therefore, they should err on the side of caution and send one anyway. It is better to have it ignored or tossed out rather than to regret not sending one.
- A cover letter can address certain situations that won’t necessarily fit on a resume, such as reason(s) for a gap in employment. It can be used to draw their attention to one of the pain points you (the job seeker) can solve.
- Even for those who do not want to see a traditional cover letter, a candidate can create a cover letter within the body of the email when attaching the resume. Most people will open and read an email, especially when it has a strong subject line.
Is it time to let go of the cover letter, or does it still have a life?
Also posted on LinkedIn