Is the Cover Letter Dead?

When was the last time you since you sat down, wrote a letter, and sent it through the mail?

Chances are, it’s been a long time. So why are we still sending in cover letters, when you could easily include the same information in the body of an email, on your LinkedIn profile, or in a link to your personal website? Turns out, hiring managers are asking the same thing. Soon, the cover letter may be as outdated as making calls on a rotary phone.

While cover letters used to be one of the only ways that employers could get a bigger picture of who you are, now there are multiple channels through which they can access information about you. Now, 60 percent of recruiters use social media to research job applications, according to Careerbuilder. What they see on Facebook or Twitter can give them a picture of who you are outside of your resume – and often a more detailed picture than your cover letter can offer. In fact, the same Careerbuilder survey found that more than 40 percent hiring managers are less likely to interview job candidates if they can’t find information about the applicant online. Use social media to leverage your application: “When you are proactive, authentic, and carefully choose your contact method, you may be surprised how many doors open up to you,” says social media specialist Alyson Weiss.

Some hiring managers are simply turning to platforms like LinkedIn to conduct initial vetting of applicants – or recruiting potential talent before they’ve even considered sending in an application. If recruiters find and approach job candidates via LinkedIn, they are less likely to ask for a cover letter (or even a resume), because they’ve already gleaned that information from the candidate’s profile. According to a survey by Bullhorn, which surveyed almost 2,000 staffing professionals, more than 97% said they used LinkedIn as a recruiting tool.

The advent of using internet-based recruiting tools is also changing how candidates approach the application process. Online portals where applicants can find and apply to positions make it much easier to mass-apply for jobs. As a result, most hiring managers are flooded with applications every time they post a position. These online applications come in at a much greater volume than applications in the days where a cover letter actually meant an ink-and-paper letter. Consequently, hiring managers have much less time to comb through applications. In fact, many companies put applications through an automated applicant tracking system or other software that scans resumes for keywords before a human even lays eyes on an application. If employers are going through applications on a timescale of seconds, it’s unlikely that the cover letter will be even be glanced at.

Which is why when hiring managers are surveyed, the truth comes out. According to a 2009 survey by reCareered, 90% of the over 2,000 hiring managers interviewed didn’t even look at the cover letter – and only 3% based their decision to interview on materials other than the resume. Other surveys tell a similar story: the Society for Human Resource Management found that 70% of hiring managers would definitely consider an application missing a cover letter for a vacant position.

Some employers admit that your cover letter isn’t going to make a difference. “I will not reject a good candidate for failing to include a cover letter with their application,” says Lucinda Foss, former director of product management at Jobvite. However, Foss specifies that “good candidate” means the applicant has a satisfactory level of experience and former job title.

So should you scrap the cover letter next time you apply for a job?

Not so fast — the cover letter isn’t fully dead yet.  “Cover letters are a test,” says Rick Gillis, career coach and author. “It may not even be reviewed but those resumes received without a cover letter will be summarily dismissed.” If a job asks for a cover letter, definitely include it. If the cover letter is optional, still consider submitting it – it shows your seriousness and commitment to the job, and makes a good first impression. Just keep in mind it may very well go unread. Focus on the elements of the application process – a clean resume, a strong online presence, and skillful networking – that will really make you stand out from the pack.

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Categories Career Advice, Resumes