Is the cover letter finally dead?
This will forever change how you apply for jobs.
You’ve surely been in this scenario: You’ve poured your blood, sweat and tears into crafting the perfect resume, and just as you’re ready to attach it to your job application and click send, you come across this line: Cover letter (optional).
Ergh. Talk about a pull-your-hair-out kind of moment. You’re wondering: “Do I really need to submit one? Does it hurt my chances if I don’t? Besides, does anyone even read these anymore?” Ask and you shall receive.
We spoke with recruiters and career experts to find out whether cover letters are still relevant in today’s job market and what you really need to get ahead in the interview process.
The verdict is...drumroll please…
Sara Brooke, a recruiter at Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) in Nashville, Tennessee, confirms what you suspect: Recruiters don’t read cover letters and hiring managers don’t have time to—they only spend six seconds reading your resume as it is.
In most cases, your resume does not go straight to the hiring manager. Rather, it often goes to a recruiter who then reviews your qualifications and follows up with a phone call to screen you. The recruiter essentially takes on the responsibility of selling the hiring manager on why you’re a good match for the job.
“In a way, you can say that we have become the cover letter,” says Brooke.
Not to mention, considering how big of a role social media is playing in the recruiting process, the cover letter is very likely becoming obsolete. A recent study by the Society For Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 84% of employers use social media to recruit job applicants. Why? It’s quicker, saves productivity and revenue, and it allows companies to scout A-grade talent that may not be actively looking for a job.
If the job does in fact require a cover letter, keep in mind that only 18% of hiring managers rank the cover letter as an important element of the hiring process, Addison Group, a Boston-based employment agency, found.
So if the cover letter is a no-go, what can you do to stand out?
Add this in place of your cover letter
The point of a cover letter is to build a bridge between yourself and the hiring manager. It shows you have something to say, that you know about the job and are interested in working for the company, says Martin Yate, author Knock ’em Dead: The Ultimate Job Search Guide.
Today’s digital landscape allows you to accomplish all that and more. Experts suggest designing an eye-catching resume or building a portfolio with relevant examples.
Brooke also advises you to provide solid references and get a letter of recommendation. References are a great opportunity for someone to say to the hiring manager that you were a good employee in your last position—and here is the proof.
Focus your time and energy on your resume
Recruiters say it takes an average of 60 seconds to decide whether a candidate is viable on paper. Since your resume is only given a glance, Brooke says recruiters focus on figuring out whether you have the skill set, education and years of experience required for the job—so make sure your resume has those answers.
Submitting a cover letter? Make sure you do it right
While cover letters may be on the decline, Shannon Nolde, lead recruiter at Zendesk, a software development company in San Francisco, says they have more value in specific jobs and industries—e.g., a creative job in marketing, public relations or content fields where writing is prevalent.
If this is the case for you, Tim Windhof, executive resume writer at Windhof Career Services in Columbus, Ohio, says your cover letter should address the following: how you learned of the opportunity, how your qualifications match the job requirements, your possible availability in the area and how you can be contacted.
If you’re still debating about whether you should spend the time writing a cover letter, Brooke advises that you ask yourself, “What's more important, a paragraph explaining why you want the job, or bulleted facts in your resume or portfolio that show you have the skills to do this job?”
Like what you’ve read? Join Monster to get personalized articles and job recommendations—and to help recruiters find you.
MORE FROM MONSTER:
The right cover letter can get your resume read with serious attention. Here is a little-known type of cover letter, called an Executive Briefing that gets great results. The only restriction on its use is that you must have details about the job opening and it has greatest impact when sent to someone directly.
Like many great ideas, the Executive Briefing is beautiful in its simplicity. It works as as an e-mail or on your standard letterhead. The job’s requirements are listed on the left side, and your skills, matching the job’s requirements point by point, are on the right. It looks like this:
Date: February 18, 2009 10:05:44 PM EST
Re: Accounting Manager
Dear Ms. Stein:
I have nine years of accounting experience and am responding to your recent posting for an Accounting Manager on CareerBuilder.com. Please allow me to highlight my skills as they relate to your stated requirements.
My resume, pasted below and attached in MSWord, will spell out my experience. I hope this executive briefing helps you use your time effectively today. I am ready to make a move, hope we can talk soon.
Here’s another example, this time in response to a recruitment ad for an Assessment Coordinator:
Subject: Assessment Coordinator
Date: February 28th, 2009 11:18:39 PM EST
Dear HR Staff,
Your advertisement in the New York Times, on February 27th, 2009, for an Assessment Coordinator seems to perfectly match my background and experience. As the International Brand Coordinator for Kahlúa, I coordinated meetings, prepared presentations and materials, organized a major off-site conference, and supervised an assistant. I believe that I am an excellent candidate for this position as I have illustrated below:
I’m interested in this position because it fits well with my new career focus in the human resources field. Currently, I am enrolled in NYU’s adult career planning and development certificate program and working at Lee Hecht Harrison.
My resume, pasted below and attached in MSWord, will provide more information on my strengths and career achievements. If after reviewing my material you believe that there is a match, please call me. Thank you for your consideration.
An Executive Briefing not only enables you to customize your resume quickly to any specific job, it is helpful in the screening process on the other side of the desk. It offers a comprehensive picture of a thorough professional, with a concise and easy-to-read synopsis that details exactly how you can help with current needs. It works, in short, because it makes life easier for the reader.
It helps in yet another way too, you may have noticed that when you have multiple interviews for a position that not all of your interviewers seem to know what job they are talking to you about. Now because an Executive Briefing so clearly matches requirements with your qualifications, it assures that every interviewer at the company will be interviewing you for the same job; this could be just the edge you need. Always take copies of your Executive Briefing with you to interviews along with your resume, it will insure those additional interviewers have the right focus.
An Executive Briefing (one of six types of cover letters you can see in Knock em Dead Cover Letters) will get your resume carefully read and sets the right tone for your candidacy.
In addition to the cover letter, there are a number of other ways you can use emails and letters to improve your odds in the job search and interview cycle: broadcast and networking letters, follow-up letters after telephone interviews and face-to-face meetings, negotiation, rejection and acceptance letters, along with resignation and thank you letters; there are 175 pages of examples in Knock ’em Dead Cover Letters.
Knock Em Dead
NY Times Bestselling Author at Knock Em Dead
With 17 books and two optical patents to his name and as someone who last danced with a professional ballet company at age 55, he is clearly one of those who has turned ADHD into a superpower. Martin is also a recovering alcoholic of some years standing, and exchanging one obsessive compulsion for another; he particularly enjoys collecting prohibition-era cocktail shakers.
Latest posts by Knock Em Dead (see all)
Special Introductory Offer
Knock Em Dead Ultimate Job Search Guide 2017 Edition
Get the latest edition of the Job Search Guide and recieve:
- 4+ Hours of video training
- Free Resume Review