It's the bane of many job hunters' existence: the cover letter. Traditionally, this is attached to a resume and sent out to potential employers. This short letter is meant to give you a platform to tell your potential employer why you're perfect for the job on offer. It's also an institution that was introduced over 50 years ago. In an age where employers barely have time to read a resume, should we just kill off cover letters for good? Let's find out.
According to The Altantic, cover letters originated in the second half of the 20th century as the US was moving away from manufacturing and towards a services-based economy. It was used to gauge a job applicant's interpersonal skills. Sounds good in theory but this was also a time before the internet. It was a time before your recruiter can stalk you exhaustively based on your online presence; there is a reason why professional networking site LinkedIn has become an indispensable tool for jobseekers and employers.
It's also important to examine the state of cover letters now. How many times have you written one cover letter and rejigged it slightly for different jobs? These letters are often laden with generic statements about your skills and abilities that you can just imagine your potential employer rolling their eyes as they're reading it. They've probably seen the sentence "I'm a fast learner and a go-getter" umpteen times.
Cover letters have become so formulaic that they've become obsolete. Here's what veteran recruiter Chadd Balbi had to say about cover letters based on his experience with job hunters and employers:
"We live in a social media world where 140 characters is the max attention our brain can offer. Consequently, hiring managers would like to decide if you are a fit as quickly as possible. A study by The Ladders revealed that on average recruiters review resumes for about 6.25 seconds before determining if you are a fit. A cover letter unfortunately does not fit into this equation. While I am sure the candidate spent a good amount of time preparing what they would like to say, cover letters get skimmed over with little to no interest."
So if hiring managers don't want read it and jobseekers don't want to write it, then why do we still insist on keeping cover letters?
There are still employers out there who ask to receiving cover letters when they request resumes from job applicants. It's probably out of habit; we've been asking for cover letters for so long, why stop now?
But there are companies that are leading the way in terms of killing off the cover letter. A former principal recruiter for Google said cover letters are not required in the company's job application process.
Cover letters could deter job seekers from applying for a job as well.
"Requiring a cover letter increases the time to apply, which makes it more likely top candidates will abandon your online hiring process before completion," according to Chris McDonald, managing director for online job search engine Indeed. "Our own research found that companies with 45 or more screener questions have a whopping 88.7% of their potential applicants abandon the process, and another study found 30% of candidates won’t spend longer than 15 minutes on an application."
Your resume itself should be able to convey what you can bring to a job on offer. While there is an argument that a cover letter gives applicants an opportunity to show off their personalities and make a connection with recruiters, as we've already discussed, cover letters are often insipid and recruiters have a tendency to just ignore them all together.
If the cover letter isn't dead yet, it’s death is long overdue.
What are your thoughts on cover letter? Do you think they're still valuable in the job application process? Let us know in the comments.