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The Cover Letter – Dead or Alive?

Trying to understand a cover letterThere are mixed opinions about the cover letter from both recruiters and job seekers.  Some claim it’s no longer relevant, others hold that it’s still an important tool for recruiters when evaluating candidates, while others argue that it depends on the situation. May’s Virtual Recruiter Quick Poll asked hiring managers and recruiters if they still look at cover letters and the majority has stated “no” or “sometimes”.

There’s obviously no right or wrong opinion regarding the use of the cover letter.  Most opinions are based on any number of company-specific variables that may include, size, recruiting processes, job requirements or even the industry. Here are some of the more common justifications for each school of thought:

Ditch the Cover Letter
Many recruiters ignore cover letters because they’ve been tainted by so many terrible ones.  They’re generic, filled with fluff, way too long, have spelling and grammar errors and, ultimately, a waste of an evaluator’s time.  For the person screening, those one or two great letters simply aren’t worth the agony of the many awful ones (the brutal resumes are painful enough). For other recruiters, though, it isn’t negative thoughts surrounding the cover letter that prevent them from reading it. They just may never get a chance to see it if their company uses an applicant tracking system or resume screening technology..

We Love the Cover Letter
On the other end of the spectrum, many hiring managers encourage and expect applicants to include a cover letter when responding to a job posting. They believe that a cover letter is the best way to get to know a potential employee and identify those who go above and beyond. A candidate who takes the time to customize a cover letter to the job requirements, personalize it to show their softer skills and edit it to demonstrate their passion is more likely to understand the position and turn into a successful hire.

We May or May Not Look at Your Cover Letter
These recruiters know the benefits of a cover letter, but also believe in the inefficiencies.  That means they’ll only go to the cover letters when it makes sense for a specific job posting.  Perhaps the position requires specific experience and the manager places much less importance on the applicant’s ability to write a professional letter.  In another scenario, the recruiter may narrow the resumes to a short-list based on experience, and then read the top 5 cover letters to see what differentiates each person.  So, although these recruiters don’t evaluate every cover letter, it may still be the key piece that gets an applicant the job.

Anybody who screens applications will have their own thoughts about cover letters and the reasons will be endless.  In the end, it becomes a matter of priorities based on the goals of the company and the position.  What do you think about cover letters?  Do you expect applicants to submit them?  How often do you actually look at them?  Let us know!