If I had a dime every time I hear the question “should I create a cover letter”, I would be a happy person with a great passive income (a very specific example, I know.) In my personal experience, I have not done a cover letter in the last 3 years and I have definitely managed to get not only interviews but job offers. However, this has been my personal experience, and a part of me still wonders if I simply got lucky. So, I consulted with a talent acquisition professional who is an industry expert experienced in evaluating talent and extending interviews…
I present you Virginia Lloyd and her perspectives on whether or not we should still do a cover letter in 2018.
Skip the Cover Letter
Applying for jobs has become increasingly easy, in most scenarios involving a single click to submit your resume. Although this makes the job applicant’s life much easier, it makes the recruiters’ jobs much harder. Countless hours are spent scanning through resumes with very little return on the investment. For this reason, recruiters spend more and more time actively looking for and engaging with passive talent rather than sitting in an applicant tracking system waiting for the right person to apply.
We all have incredibly short attention spans nowadays, and recruiters are no exception. Recruiters usually don’t spend more than 10 seconds skimming through a resume. When applying for a job, the application’s first and most important function is to catch the recruiter’s attention. So, focus on your resume and forget the cover letter. Cover letters tend to be a distraction or in most cases are not even looked at. They’re too often obviously templatized & mass produced (e.g. Dear Hiring Manager or To Whom It May Concern) or have clearly not been updated with the correct job title or company name or include spelling and grammatical errors. You probably hate creating a cover letter as much as the recruiter dreads reading it. Ultimately, a cover letter is more of a liability than an asset.
A Resume Is Your Most Valuable Real Estate
Rather than spending time on a cover letter, put the extra effort into perfecting your resume. Resumes should convey your elevator pitch at the top and showcase the impact you’ve made. For example, if you work in marketing, describe the value you added in different roles. Perhaps you created a plan that increased the company’s web traffic by X number of unique visits. Or you developed a campaign that improved inbound sales numbers by X amount. These are important data points that tie into the company’s bottom line and give a better indication of the value you will add to your next role.
Putting an objective at the top of your resume with what you are looking for is almost as bad as including a cover letter. It tells the recruiter nothing about your experience and what you have to offer. Consider instead adding an impact summary. List relevant projects and the business impact you’ve made in past positions. Ultimately, driving impact is what matters.
Listing side projects can also be valuable to include. They demonstrate passion and allude to the fact that you enjoy learning and take ownership of your own growth. These points can greatly increase the chances that you’ll grab the attention of the recruiter and they’ll continue reading into the details of your resume. Even if they decide you’re not the right fit for the role, the odds are better that they will spend time reviewing your qualifications & background.
Network, Network, Network
To really set yourself apart, take the time to find a recruiter or hiring manager on LinkedIn and send them a connection request with a personalized message. Personalized and intentional networking offers the highest chances of getting a response to your job application. Once you’re connected, send a quick note and express how excited you are about the role and company and let them know you’ve applied. This approach will greatly increase the chances that someone will review your resume.
As recruiters focus more time on hunting for talent, they spend less and less time on reviewing applications. Unfortunately, it’s common for resumes to sit in an applicant tracking system and never be looked at. This is especially true for large companies with high volumes of applicants. More often than not, the right candidates come through employee referrals, networking events, company-hosted events, and customized outreach. In other words, you have to set yourself apart as a job applicant. Any good recruiter will respond to a candidate and personally sends them a message expressing interest. If they don’t respond within a week, consider sending a follow-up message to reiterate how interested you are in the role, or try contacting someone else at the company instead. Although it can get frustrating when you don’t hear back, try not to be discouraged. This approach takes more time, but your success rate and the odds of talking to a hiring manager are much higher.
So, if you are actively job searching, forego the cover letter unless the job application specifically asks for it! Let me know what your experience is in trying this method if you decide to adopt it today. Or, if you’ve gotten interviews without cover letters, let us know too!
One exception (edited 3/14/18):
Wisely noted by my good friend Sergio Sanchez, PhD (see his comment by scrolling to the bottom of the blog post):
Networking is the way to differentiate yourself and get ahead of the bot because the hiring manager knows s/he wants you before they even post the job. A cover letter (or a modified, less formal version of one) is a helpful way to introduce yourself to individuals that don’t yet know you but you want to network with. Whether it is a cold contact or an introduction through a mutual acquaintance, folks at the receiving end of networking requests want to know a little bit about you before they decide to share 20-30 mins of their busy time with you. They are going to have to stop doing something to talk to you! So that brings us back to the original question … Are cover letter still required? For the one-click applications … definitely not. For networking and introducing yourself … I think the answer is yes. Funny thing is, this is exactly why cover letters were first created: to introduce yourself to a PERSON and create demand for you as a candidate. It all comes back to the beginning, doesn’t it! : )
Virginia specializes in talent acquisition ranging from hands-on recruiting to building out best practices and processes, as well as leading small teams at high tech companies. She is an alumnus of Google, SONOS, Red Hat, and Spotify, and is currently the Director of Talent at White Ops, an NYC-based cybersecurity startup.