Are Cover Letters Passé?


cover letters

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My brother, a recent retiree, decided he’d like to take a part-time job teaching economics at a local college. Not only did he have to dust off his resume, which he hadn’t had to update for 15 years, but he had to draft an accompanying cover letter. After being out of the job-seeking game for so long, he found himself pretty rusty on cover letter dos and don’ts. His situation got me thinking: are cover letters still relevant or are they a thing of the past?

I am not a cover letter person. As a professional recruiter, I rely more on the candidate’s resume for key information. For example, I can tell from a resume if the potential hire is a job hopper or if there’s a pattern to how long they tend to stay put in a job. A candidate’s resume quickly tells me if the individual has advanced in his or her career or if they seem to have stagnated. I also glance at titles but pay more attention to responsibilities.

However, when a candidate does include a cover letter, I read it. I want to see if the wording is grammatically correct, check for typos, and get a general feel for the individual’s ability to write a letter.  But I don’t really pay too much attention to the story they are telling.

Cover Letter Poll

To get a better idea about how employers feel about cover letters in 2024, I decided to take an informal poll on the topic. Here is the question I posed on LinkedIn: As an employer requesting resumes, do you say YES, add a cover letter, NO cover letter necessary, or does it just depend?

The results were interesting. Of the 86 people who weighed in, more than half (59%) said a cover letter is not necessary. Twenty-two percent were in favor of asking for one, while 19% said it depends. This is by no means a statistically valid poll, but it does provide some food for thought.

Results… drumroll, please…

Like many human resources issues, opinions on cover letters are mixed and often conflicting. Some professionals advise not to bother with them, while others recommend including a cover letter as a matter of professional courtesy. It would be a rare instance, in my opinion, where one would work against a candidate, but in some cases, it could make a difference in getting an interview or not. For example, ResumeGo, a national resume service, found that applicants who submitted a tailored cover letter were invited to interview more often than applicants who didn’t include one—16.4 percent versus 10.7 percent.

Why Include a Cover Letter?

Here are some other arguments for including a letter with your resume or application. A cover letter can:

  • Help you stand out from other candidates.
  • Allow you to tailor your message for a particular job and show why you are the right fit for the position.
  • Provide a more personal feel and convey information and emotions that might not come through in a resume, such as your passion for the job.
  • Help you explain your resume, including gaps in employment or a questionably short stint in a role.

Why You Can Skip It

Some reasons for skipping a cover letter include:

  • It takes time to craft a winning cover letter, and it might not ever be read.
  • Writing one provides more opportunities for typos and grammatical errors.
  • Reaching out to the recruiter or hiring manager via e-mail or LinkedIn might be more effective.

One thing is certain, though. If the job listing specifically asks you to provide a cover letter, it’s imperative to do so. If you don’t, it could send the message you’re not good at following directions and even get your resume thrown out.

What Do You Think?

In the end, submitting a personal letter of introduction when applying for a job is up to you. If you go the route of including a cover letter, make sure it is clear, concise, and contains a strong opening statement. If the application process doesn’t allow you to add a cover letter, consider other ways to reach out and convey your interest in the position.

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