are cover letters still relevant?

You’ve found a job opportunity that checks most of the boxes on your wish list. You set about tailoring your resume so it catches the attention of the hiring manager (because you always customize your resumes instead of just throwing them against the wall and hoping they stick, right?) The job posting doesn’t say anything about including a cover letter. So you’re off the hook. Right?

Not so fast.

Some things may have changed in the job hunting process with the advent of email and online technologies that are seemingly designed to keep job seekers beyond arm’s length in the application process. Some recruiters say cover letters are all but obsolete with the advent of social media. But while some things have changed, some have remained the same, or at least ambiguous enough for you to err on the side of inclusion.

are cover letters still relevant

does it matter what field you’re working in?

The jury is still out on whether cover letters are still relevant to the hiring process as social profiles and resume scanning increase in popularity. Whether a cover letter is required or not often depends on what industry, department or sector you’re applying to. Generally, blue-collar roles don’t require one, whereas most white-collar roles will. Creative, marketing, PR or content/communications roles pretty much always require a cover letter. It’s the nature of the beast.

We polled some of our consultants to ask if they still advised job seekers to include cover letters with their resumes. Their answer was succinct: absolutely. It seems no one has lost an opportunity yet because they included a cover letter, but many have lost it because they didn’t. In fact, some hiring managers disregard (read: toss) a resume that isn’t introduced by a cover letter as part of their screening out process. With hundreds of job seekers vying for the same role, that’s a simple way of culling the herd.

Your cover letter becomes increasingly important the closer you get to being hired. As the field narrows, it’s often what differentiates you from your closest competitor whose skills and experience align most closely with yours. In fact, the hiring manager may not even see your cover letter until you’ve been short-listed.

why do hiring managers still care about cover letters?

With virtual applications flying at them from all directions, why do many hiring managers still want a cover letter? Here are a few of the reasons hiring managers gave for preferring applications that came with cover letters.

  • They provide insight into your personality
  • They help gauge if you’d fit the company culture
  • They allow you to highlight areas of your experience or training that prove you’re a good fit and cover gaps in your work history
  • It’s an opportunity to showcase your communication skills
  • It shows hiring managers you’ve researched their organization and can speak to specifics about how your skills and experience align with their requirements

So why should you write a cover letter if the job posting doesn’t ask for one? Here’s what our recruiters said:

write a cover letter even if you don’t send it.

It’s a great opportunity for you to focus on your skills and experience at the same time as you gain clarity and a clearer understanding of the role and how you might fit in. By creating a cover letter, you’re also creating a content template whose pieces you can use for your social media channels, short bios, introductions, etc.

customize your cover letter for each role.

Create a cover letter template but don’t forget to customize it for each role you apply for. That means making sure the company name is correct throughout the document, including filling in space savers like ‘Company X’. Remove sections that don’t apply and rearrange the format to match that of the role description. And by the way, nothing says don’t hire this person like poor spelling and grammar. Check, check and check again.

Also use ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘mine’ instead of talking about yourself in the third person. In terms of tone, keep it professional but warm and personable. You want your personality to come through but avoid being too jokey; there’s time for them to discover your great sense of humour and this isn’t it, unless you’re applying for a role at a comedy club.

things to remember…

If you’re sending a cover letter, keep it short, specific and relevant. Use bullet points and introduce them with short paragraphs. Hiring managers have little time and less patience to read a dissertation. In this era of online job postings, you won’t be submitting your application to a specific person but an email address or directly on the company’s website. Avoid nameless salutations like ‘Dear Sir or Madam’, and particularly ‘To Whom it May Concern’. At this point in the hiring cycle, it only really concerns you.

Once it’s assessed your skills and experience are a possible fit, a cover letter is what convinces a hiring manager to want to know more about you. A good cover letter tells a story. Write yours.

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