5 MIN READ
Are Cover Letters Dying? Maybe, But Here’s Why You Should Write Them Anyway
You’re applying for your dream job — or just a job that pays more than what you’ve got going on right now.
After tailoring your resume to the job description, you obsess over every single word. Then you make your significant other read it approximately 23 times.
Once you determine it’s perfect, you move on… to the cover letter. Dun, dun, dun.
That’s the one-page document that’s supposed to add personality to your bulleted resume.
Online advice says, Be cool. Be interesting. Show; don’t tell. Make yourself shine through the screen.
I respond, Sigh.
Aside from those “We’re sorry. You’re just not the right fit. We won’t elaborate why; we’ll just let you lose sleep over it” responses, the cover letter is arguably the worst part of the job-search process.
But times could be changing, at least according to Jobvite’s 2017 Jobseeker Nation Report released earlier this year.
The survey revealed nearly half (47%) of American workers didn’t even bother sending a cover letter when they applied to their current job. Additionally, 74% of recruiters reported not considering the document when evaluating a candidate.
Jobvite bluntly concluded that, yes, the cover letter is dead — or at least dying.
What’s the Point of a Cover Letter Anyway?
Can you really fit your entire being into one page of Times New Roman text?
Not really, but the original purpose of a cover letter was to add some flair to that straightforward, bullet-pointed resume.
“It’s a vehicle to accompany your resume, portfolio or whatever it is you’re sending in,” says Loren Margolis, CEO of Training and Leadership Success. She spent nine years as a leadership and career coach at Columbia Business School.
Margolis says the cover letter is also a great spot to express your desire to be called in for an interview, something you can’t necessarily do in your resume.
There’s also what she calls a hidden purpose. “[Recruiters and hiring managers] want to see if you’ve got writing skills and that you can put together two paragraphs — or sentences even,” Margolis explains. “This is your time to shine and demonstrate your communication skills. It can really be a selling point.”
Bryan Chaney, the talent branding and attraction strategist at Indeed, says the cover letter is a great opportunity to explain why you’re the perfect fit for a job, even if your background doesn’t exactly align with the job requirements. “Your cover letter is there to explain why the recruiter should talk to you,” he says.
Jumping off that point, Rachel Bitte, the chief people officer at Jobvite, explains the cover letter was a way to “tailor your application to the company and position” and to “make a personal connection with the recruiter and to highlight useful information that doesn’t shine through on bullet points on a resume.”
She emphasizes one key word, though: Was. The cover letter was…
Why Are Cover Letters Dying?
For those of us who have poured our entire hearts and souls — and perhaps a sleepless night — into a cover letter, I apologize for what I’m about to say…
Many recruiters these days simply don’t have time to read your cover letter.
“The number of candidates who apply, as well as the pace at which companies need to bring in fresh talent, has increased exponentially, leaving recruiters with more applications to get through and less time to do so,” Bitte explains. “Recruiters only have a couple of minutes to review an application, so they want to get to the core of someone’s experiences and background quickly via their resume.”
It’s also worth considering how we’re finding and applying to jobs now — through online portals such as LinkedIn.
“Sometimes you don’t have the medium to take a Word doc and create a cover letter in it,” Margolis notes. She uses LinkedIn as an example. The “Easy Apply” feature only asks for a flavorless resume.
What’s Replacing the Cover Letter?
At this point you’ve probably guessed it: Social media is now playing a huge role in the job application process.
“Before, the cover letter was a way to show off some personality, but modern recruiters can now look to social media to suss out culture fit,” Bitte explains.
But the key lies in properly managing and carefully curating those platforms.
“When it’s done right, it can showcase your creative skills, personality and ability to build a network,” Bitte says.
The recent Recruiter Nation Report from Jobvite found recruiters love seeing examples of work, volunteer experience and mutual connections.
“That, more than any cover letter, could be the difference maker on whether you land the job,” Bitte concludes.
Further down the road, some professionals, including Chaney and Margolis, believe video will become more prevalent. Chaney deems it an “accessible storytelling medium.”
Imagine sending a 10-minute selfie video to a hiring manager.
So I Can Stop Writing Cover Letters Now, Right?
Well, not exactly.
Not all recruiters have tossed cover letters out the Windows (get it?), especially in writing-focused and communication-focused industries.
Many jobs require communication skills, and that’s why the cover letter is handy: to make sure a candidate can piece together sentences to form a paragraph, like Margolis explained.
Other recruiters and hiring managers might use the cover letter to gauge a candidate's attention to detail. In the job description, it might ask for specific paragraphs on specific topics. If those aren’t included, it shows you might not be cut out for the job.
Margolis also mentions those popular “cover letter optional” listings. When it comes to these, she encourages applicants to submit a cover letter. It can’t hurt — only help.
When asked if the cover letter will ever totally die off, Margolis says, “You know, I think they may. But here’s what will never fully die out: An organization’s need to know how you communicate as a part of their vetting process.”
So, for now, we recommend you keep writing ’em!
Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She wishes cover letters would hurry up and die already.