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?”
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But no matter how in-depth your résumé — or its online equivalent — is, it's not enough to tell your whole story to potential employers, writes Lauren Nelson, a communications specialist and VP at Aesthetic Cogency, in a LinkedIn post. "I don't care if your résumé is dozens pages of awards and sheer greatness," she says. "You've lost me."
To Nelson, a well-written cover letter is more important than an impressive résumé because it reveals your work ethic and attention to detail. It provides glimpses into your personality that a list of achievements can't.
For starters, Nelson makes it clear that she always requires a cover letter with any job application, yet she only receives them 40% of the time. And only about a fourth that do send cover letters actually tailor them to the job, making it easy for Nelson to weed out candidates. "If you can't follow simple instructions in the application process, I have little to no faith in your ability to take direction on the job," she explains.
Furthermore, what candidates choose to include on their cover letter tells Nelson if their background is a good match for the position. "If you cannot communicate why your experience and skills are relevant to the job, I'm not sure you understand what the position entails, or that your background brings all that much value to the table," she says.
On the other hand, when Nelson can tell that a candidate took the time to craft a concise, detailed cover letter for the specific position they applied for, she is more than ready to schedule an interview.
"I would rather have a determined, passionate individual with a strong work ethic on my team than an Ivy League degree without tenacity every single time," she says. What it comes down to is hard work and dedication — your résumé might boast impressive accomplishments, but it means nothing if you can't prove that you're genuinely passionate about the position.
Read the full LinkedIn post here.
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