Are Cover Letters Dead or Just Following Us Around?

Darth VaderRecently more than one recruiting leader asked whether their peers were still using cover letters or, if they had become like our dictionary perception of an appendix, a “useless [recruiting] remnant of our evolutionary past.”

And let’s not kid ourselves, every job coach still implores their clients to upload a customized cover letter for each and every job they apply to. Most ATSs accommodate the behavior.

But, it appears that more firms are not turning the “upload” feature on … and some with it on have begun to turn it off.

Are recruiters really reading digitized cover letters to get added “insight” to sort qualified candidates and select finalists or, would they prefer automated, curated social media content scrapped from esoteric group discussions all nicely tagged with sentiment labels and delivered by a cool app with its secret sauce algorithm?

Are there firms that still require their recruiters to review cover letters as part of selecting the finalists or is it just a “nice to have” when the finalist has been chosen to prep the hiring manager?

Do cover letters make a difference to the employer’s choice anymore?

With a few exceptions, cover letters are dead. And, as mobile apply becomes the rule rather than an exception, it will be evident to candidates as well as employers that cover letters are fading.

Enter the unintended consequence: Candidates’ perception of recruiters and employers.

Cover letters may no longer influence employer decisions but they do fuel candidate perceptions that they are getting up to bat (in the application) by customizing their ability to sell the skills, knowledge, and experience that they think contributes to their candidacy. At best, it is why they think they are competitive.

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Without a cover letter, the candidate typically responds to the employer’s application, specialized questions, and customized assessments and seldom sees an opportunity to add the unique aspects of their background that they prepared to share.

Companies who ask, as part of their application, “What haven’t we asked about your skills, knowledge, or experience that you think is important to share?” are rated significantly higher by candidates (especially those they do not hire) and are likely compensating for the “lost” cover letter.

The result is that candidates who believe they were given a fair opportunity to compete for the position are significantly more likely to rate their experience very positive … even when they are not hired … even when they haven’t gone past the application.

Candidate experience ratings are statistically connected to this one issue of “fairness” more than any other. And, these ratings directly impact the candidate’s intention to re-apply, refer others, buy product, and more. Practices that affect the perception of “fairness” are employment brand killers.

So, if you dump the cover letter, make sure you ask for the candidate’s view of what is important in the application. Do it again at the end of the phone screen, at the end of each interview and the interview day.

These evidence based insights and more are available for free from www.theCandEs.org. Better yet, download the last whitepaper, get your company registered for 2015, tell your friends to do the same. Before you know it you’ll have your own data to leverage changes in how you treat candidates that can impact your business a lot more than reading someone’s opinion about the “3 things you should… ” The Candidate Experience Awards are still open. It’s free. Register today.

Gerry Crispin, is an internationally recognized speaker, author, and thought leader. He seeks to understand how firms design and build staffing processes, the technology to enhance them and the systems to manage them. He is also committed to writing, researching, and sharing his adventures, opinions and observations about evolving staffing models with the HR profession, clients and friends. He and his partner, Mark Mehler, created CareerXroads® and the CareerXroads Colloquium with one goal in mind: critically analyzing corporate recruiting issues from a tactical yet strategic perspective. Learn more at CareerXroads

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3 Comments on “Are Cover Letters Dead or Just Following Us Around?

  1. Good article Gerry.
    I am not the biggest fan of cover letters unless the bottom line is impacted by the position’s requirement for a strong writing skill set.

    You have addressed an important point that candidates need an avenue to sell themselves and express what it is they have to offer. The cover letter does do that but I also think the resume can too if it is composed well enough.

  2. Good article. Cover letters are dead. I haven’t read one in years. No hiring manager has asked to see one in years. Why do companies still ask for them?

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