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Is the Cover Letter Dead?

A hand rising from a pile of crumpled papers

The demise of the cover letter is a polarizing topic. Some hiring managers will tell you it’s worthless and others will tell you they won’t consider a job applicant without it. The problem is, it can be impossible to tell what camp each hiring manager is in when you apply. Adding to the frustration is that while 30% of recruiters won’t consider an applicant who doesn’t submit a cover letter, only 10% actually read it.

Confusing, right? Below is some clarity.

Include a cover letter if:

  • It’s requested. Even if a cover letter is mentioned as being optional, include one. While it may remain unread, the fact that it was mentioned could be a test. Those who opt out of including one may be thrown out of the running immediately for either not following directions (if it’s required) or not going the extra mile (if it’s optional).
  • You’re asked to mail or email the hiring manager directly. This gives you an opportunity to include a cover letter in case they care to read. If you’re emailing your resume, treat the body of the email as your cover letter (unless instructed otherwise). Take the opportunity to personalize your submission, but do not include vital information on the letter or email that isn’t included on your resume or application.
  • Your gut says you should. As you research the employer, you may pick up some clues that the hiring manager would value the personalized touch a cover letter would provide. The clues could be found in the job description or on the company’s website or social media. If the company claims it wants to hire passionate people or it’s a nonprofit with an important mission, for instance, they may be looking for some sort of narrative about you that will highlight your personality. A cover letter can do that (and here’s how).

Conversely, the biggest clue you shouldn’t include a cover letter is when there’s no easy way to do so. Some online portals these days don’t even allow cover letters to be submitted. In these cases, follow the instructions precisely. Neglecting to do so—and adding a cover letter anyway—won’t do you any favors.

You might be wondering, “If I should assume my cover letter isn’t going to be read, where do I put that vital information?” We’re glad you asked! All pertinent information needs to be included in the resume or application (whichever is requested). And, yes, we know that leads to the question, “But if my resume needs to be brief, how do I fit it all in?!”
This Fast Company article includes some great ideas, including these substitutions:

  • Replace your physical address with your email address. If you think it’s important to highlight that you’re local, include your city. But your street address? That’s irrelevant.
  • Add relevant social media handles. CareerBuilder reports 70 percent of employers use social media to screen candidates before hiring and 3 in 10 employershave someone dedicated solely to getting the scoop on your online persona. Why not help them out by pointing them to your LinkedIn profile, where you should include all those “extras” that may not make the cut on your edited resume like volunteer positions and awards.
  • Instead of listing past job duties, list past job accomplishments. Make these accomplishments measurable/data-driven, especially if you’re applying for a sales, marketing, or management position.
  • Remove your objective. Including an objective on a resume is old school. Your objective is to GET THAT JOB. Either completely remove it or replace it with the more modern career summary. Think of this summary as your elevator pitch. It should include highlights that make you the best person for the job like a high-level competency, niche, or career focus.

So while the cover letter may be on its way out, automatically discounting it may be a big mistake. When in doubt, leave it IN, even if you assume it won’t be read. Update your resume with these tips and you’ll be covered either way.


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