I’ve written a number of articles calling cover letters an obsolete and ineffective tradition, a waste of time, and even damaging to your chances of getting an interview.
These articles have generated much interest, including a string of 650 comments when I posted this article on Linkedin. It’s interesting, because most of the comments were from candidates describing how they “felt” that cover letters were still necessary. Many commented that even if a small percentage like 25% read cover letters, it was still worthwhile to give themselves an edge.
Finally, many candidates felt that by not including a cover letter, they risked giving the perception of being lazy. Disappointingly, many career coaches, outplacement firm representatives, college placement representatives, and government/non-profit career assistance personnel agreed that cover letters were necessary to get an edge – these people should know better.
Let’s contrast the comments from most recruiters and employers. Most said that they don’t read or even get cover letters. Most said that they ignore cover letters, making their decisions on who to interview based on a resume, not a cover letter.
The original article written last year was based on 2 years of surveys with thousands of hiring managers, recruiters, and HR reps. In the same article, I published the results of a poll given to candidates, about their views of cover letters.
You’ll be amazed at the stark differences. The poll showed that candidates cling to tradition – it’s what they are comfortable with. For those in career transition, it’s just human nature to cling to comfort because it feels controllable when so much in your life feels out of your control. It should be no surprise that 96% of candidates polled used cover letters and 92% sent the same resume to all the jobs they applied to.
96% of all candidates put all of their differentiating and customizing language into a document … that gets ignored.
This is a huge opportunity for the 4% of candidates who realize that the cover letter is ignored and who know that if it’s not on your resume, it doesn’t exist.
So here are three reasons to ditch your cover letter:
It’s Only Effective 3% Of The Time: What’s the ROI if a cover letter is only effective 3% of the time? Couldn’t you increase your odds by spending the time instead customizing your resume, doing more company research, making more phone calls or networking? Here are some eye opening stats from the research:
- 97% of Hiring Managers/Recruiters/HR reps said they make interview decisions based on the resume, not cover letters
- Just 10% of Hiring Managers/Recruiters/HR reps said they read cover letters
- 70% of those who read cover letters also said that they still don’t give interviews to a candidate with a resume that didn’t meet criteria, even if the cover letter was awesome – most wouldn’t read the cover letter if the resume didn’t meet criteria
- 33% of Hiring Managers/Recruiters/HR reps said they even get cover letters – so 66% couldn’t read them even if they wanted to
- Cover Letters Aren’t Scanned By Most ATSs: I’ve interviewed CEOs and VPs from the top 10 job boards and the top 10 ATS vendors. The job board execs all tell me that employers can’t search cover letters stored on job boards – every one. The ATS vendors tell me that their systems have options to allow clients to search cover letters, but almost none of their clients spend the extra money to use this option. Why? HR departments are under even more cost pressure than IT departments and would rather devote their budget other priorities than a more effective ATS system.
- Cover Letters Can Hurt More Than Help: Every single hiring manager I talked to (the few who also said they read cover letters) could recall many times they rejected candidates based on the cover letter. Not one could recall a time that they agreed to interview a candidate with an inadequate resume and a great cover letter. So a cover letter could get you rejected, but it can’t get you an interview. Why would any candidate want this?
There’s an overriding reason that cover letters are ignored by so many employers … 15 seconds. It’s a well known HR statistic that resume reviewers spend an average 15 seconds reviewing a resume. In 15 seconds, you can’t review both a resume and a cover letter. Almost everyone I interviewed, close to 100%, read the resume first.
Exceptions – there are always exceptions to the rule. There are still a few times when cover letters make sense and can help:
- Writing jobs – If you’re applying for a copywriting, journalism, publishing, blogging or editing job: Your cover letter will likely reach the hiring manager and will likely be read first.
- Jobs from the newspaper – If the employer doesn’t give an email address or website, but instead gives a snail mail address or fax number, they are telling you they will review your resume on paper. They will also get a lower volume of candidates. Hiring managers who expect paper also expect cover letters and expect to take more time per applicant to read both. CraigsList ads sometimes ask for paper or fax, also.
- When the employer asks for one – Give them one, but you don’t have to make it a full cover letter. I recommend a very short transmittal letter, listing the job applied for and saying the resume is attached – that’s it. Here’s why: If an employer asks for a cover letter in the ad, it doesn’t mean that the employer will even look at it. It’s a default setting in most of the job boards and it’s often set by IT department to request cover letters, just in case HR decides to ask for cover letters at some time in the future.
Since so few candidates incorporate these facts into their job search … just think of the advantage you can gain just by customizing your resume instead of your cover letter.
Employers, recruiters and HR staff – What do you with cover letters?-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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