Recruiters aren’t reading them. In fact, we’re not even looking at them. I’ve always wanted to encourage an official “Cover Letter Burning Day.” Sadly, I’ve never sold HR in the companies I’ve worked to go along with it. Oh well, maybe I can convince enough that cover letters really aren’t effective as they may have once been.
Think about it from just a numbers perspective. An average 250 people apply to one job. A recruiter is working on an average 25 job openings. That means they are reviewing a total of 6,250 resumes. Yes, an applicant tracking system and keyword searches will limit that number down but even if I get each job opening down to the top 15 that is still 325 resumes to review. I’m just not as likely to read an additional cover letter if you couldn’t sell yourself in your resume. Having a strong marketable resume is going to be more effective in getting a recruiter to call you for a phone interview than any cover letter will ever do.
So please, feel free to burn it, delete it, have a touching goodbye ceremony over the paper shredder but whatever you do, please, stop wasting your energy on your cover letter.
What’s that you say? What if is there is an option to include it in the application process? It’s optional, you can opt no. It’s okay to say no. I believe in you. You can do it! Unfortunately, someone is some meeting announced their need for adding cover letters to the applicant tracking system and it remains there in many applicants tracking systems today. Yet another misstep in an already lengthy applicant experience. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Okay, so now that I’ve completely trashed the cover letter there will still be a few of you who are like but I really want to write one. Okay, knock your socks off, but here’s the only reason I would and how to do it effectively.
When It’s A Hard Requirement. Yes, I will agree that there will be some job openings that still ask for a cover letter. If they do ask for one, then write one. While recruiters are less likely to read your cover letter it is more likely a hiring manager will. The types of jobs where I see cover letters still asked for are usually with non-profits, academia and sometimes healthcare and government positions. Overall, though, most jobs are not asking for it as a hard requirement.
Make It Specific to the Company and Job. If you want it to be effective you need to write it specifically to the details of the company and job. Don’t be generic with it.
Make It You! You may want to express some personal values that don’t come across your in your resume. The cover letter can be an effective tool to share these values. Remember to keep them cohesive with your overall career brand story.
Get to the Point. If resumes are read in 8-10 seconds, well, you can imagine that it would be even more important to keep your cover letter short and to the point. Good career marketing is short, concise and to the point.