3 Things You Need To Know About Cover Letters

3 Things You Need To Know About Cover Letters

Among the endless obstacles facing today’s job seekers, the cover letter is the one that sends many over the edge. 

Cover letters make demands that are difficult to meet. Many job seekers don’t feel comfortable writing about themselves. Others aren’t confident writing in general. Meanwhile, an increasing number of job applications don’t request a cover letter and more and more reports suggest that recruiters don’t read them anyway, leaving job seekers wondering, what’s the point?

Here are three things you need to know about cover letters going forward.

1) It’s true: Most corporate recruiters don’t care about cover letters

There is an oft-cited statistic that recruiters only view a resume for an average of six seconds. Whether or not that’s an exaggeration or unfairly applied to all recruiters, the point is that many recruiters make their first round of cuts by quickly skimming a resume for the minimum qualifications. If they’re only dedicating a few seconds to the resume, it’s safe to assume that they’re not allocating minutes to reading each applicant’s cover letter.

“It’s just an extra step in an already elongated process,” a non-profit recruiter explained to me.

An experienced healthcare recruiter told me point blank, “Recruiters do not read cover letters.” There are exceptions to the rule — a Jobvite survey found that 26% of recruiters still find value in cover letters — but job seekers shouldn’t count on recruiters reading their letter.

“Recruiters are really interested in looking at the substance in the resume, not reading a cover letter that speaks to capabilities,” wrote Phenom People’s Kristina Finseth on LinkedIn.

This poses a problem for job seekers who rely on their cover letter to explain gaps or unusual entries on their resume, such as someone attempting to shift their career towards a new role or industry. To bridge the gap for recruiters, job seekers can utilize a summary section to add context to their resume.

2) Cover Letters Aren’t Dead… Yet

The idea that “cover letters are dead” has been growing support in recent years, but who has been banging that drum? The recruiters who freely admit that they don’t even open up cover letters.

“Now that I have been immersed in the recruiting industry for years, I am a firm believer that cover letters are and will forever remain dead,” wrote Finseth.

The problem with this is that recruiters aren’t the only people involved in the hiring process. A corporate recruiter is often the job seekers’ first obstacle, but they’re not the final decision maker. That distinction belongs to the hiring manager.

Cover letters are “mostly for the hiring manager,” the non-profit recruiter admitted.

It’s understandable that so many corporate recruiters ignore cover letters. They have to sort through hundreds of applicants for any given position in order to deliver the three or four best candidates to the hiring manager.

Once a cover letter makes it “to a hiring manager who’s looking at a much lower number of applicants, they might actually read that,” said the healthcare recruiter. “But if it’s somebody like me whose job is just screening resumes all day, I don’t have time to read people’s cover letters.”

If an application specifically requests a cover letter, it’s worth the effort to write a good one. According to the non-profit recruiter, what hiring managers see in a great cover letter is “somebody who’s willing to take that extra step to secure the interview.”

3) Social Media Might be the New Cover Letter

If the cover letter does die off it will be because it’s been replaced by something else. The top candidate going into 2018 is social media.

“I’m a ‘Google first’ type of recruiter,” Employment Specialist Alexandria Bellivan shared on LinkedIn. “I’m trying to see if the commitment to their work exists on other social media platforms.”

Recruiters and hiring managers often prefer a “show, don’t tell” approach. Rather than trusting a job seeker to explain their skills and character in a cover letter, hiring professionals can see it for themselves online. Some even use tools that automatically scrape the web for any public social media profile and website associated with a job seeker.

LinkedIn is often the first place recruiters and hiring managers look, as it allows them to corroborate and delve deeper into the work history. As such, writing a standout LinkedIn profile is a necessary step in any job hunt. LinkedIn and sites like Quora can be a place for a job seeker to position themselves as expert in their field by participating in industry discussions.

Broadly popular social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are also in play. Status updates on these sites will tell a hiring manager more about a candidate’s character than any cover letter.

Industry-specific networks need also be considered. For example, software engineers and web developers should make sure their Stack Overflow and GitHub profiles position themselves as knowledgeable and productive members of their industry. Visual designers are wise to keep their Behance or Dribbble portfolios up to date.

A job applicant’s online presence is now a standard part of their application. And while corporate recruiters may have moved on from the cover letter, it won’t die off completely as long as there are still hiring managers that want to hear directly from the applicant. If a cover letter is required, job seekers must be sure to put their full effort into writing a letter that adds value to and expands upon their resume.

Jon Shields is a writer and editor focused on uncovering the hidden obstacles faced by modern job seekers. He is a member of the team at Jobscan, a startup specializing in resume optimization technology and other job search tools. Previously, he spent six years in print publishing making history books and another six years covering baseball for a number of online publications, including Vox Media and ESPN.com.

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  • April 8, 2021