Is the Cover Letter Dead?

After a survey conducted by recruitment platform, Jobvite, claimed that almost two-thirds of recruiters do not consider cover letters to be an important element when reviewing job applications, Fast Company magazine published an article stating that the cover letter is dead.

The survey questioned over 1,400 recruiters and it led to Rachel Bitte, Jobvite’s chief people officer, comparing the cover letter to a dinosaur in the hiring world. She alleges that “recruiters who get cover letters say they ignore them. Instead, they want to get to the meat of someone’s background by diving into the resume.”

But even those who believe that cover letters no longer matter admit that they do still hold some relevant information. What candidates should do, they argue, is transfer those details (i.e. personal interests, hobbies and membership of important clubs) to their CV, adding a succinct and hard-hitting summary as well.

The most argued point is that social media has replaced the need for a cover letter; recruiters once used them to get to know candidates, but now, social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can help hiring managers judge whether an applicant will be a good fit by simply following their online presence.

However, other career sector professionals argue that a cover letter serves as more than a mere description of your interests and hobbies. Some point to the fact that it serves as an opportunity to prove your knowledge of and interest in the company you are applying to join as well as allowing you to express why you are the perfect person for the role on offer.

Jeff Lareau, Workforce Development Program Manager at CompTIA, says that after surveying “a handful” of recruiters and managers himself, his results appeared to suggest the same as Jobvite’s. But, even though he found that sixty percent of those surveyed do not read cover letters, he still believes they are crucial to any job application.

Mr Lareau says, “Sometimes, not having a cover letter is detrimental to your chances even if the employer doesn’t read it. Of the 60% of hiring managers who admitted to not reading cover letters, half of them still thought the cover letter was necessary.”

“Many employers and recruiters expect you to put some effort into your application, and not doing so could very easily disqualify you.”

So what does he advise? “Keep writing cover letters!” At the very least, you have nothing to lose, even if the recruiter disregards it. But you have everything to lose by not writing it. And whether or not they read them, it is hard to come by a firm hiring for an executive role that does not request a cover letter.

If you are still unconvinced by the importance of this tradition, but want to personalise your application and come across as if you have made an effort, you could consider writing a pain letter instead. A pain letter is similar to a cover letter in format but differs in content, and some people use them to highlight certain areas where the company could do better, and explain how they can help with these particular issues. The fact that pain letters are becoming more popular suggests that cover letters are not dying at all – but they are evolving to some degree.

Another key observation is that many job specifications specifically ask for “applications to be accompanied by a cover letter.” Indeed some job specifications even go as far as to say what should be included on the cover letter for particular applications – for this reason alone it is clear that the cover letter is far from dead, and regardless of what certain recruiters suggest, they look like being around for quite some time to come!

Written by

Cambridge University graduate and professional career sector writer.

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