I was reading an article recently that outlined some fantastic tips for new grads as they search for that first job. Although I agreed with the majority of the article and have tons of respect for the author, I found my myself questioning one of the tips – the influence of a strong cover letter.
As background, my cynicism around the cover letter comes not only from my experience consulting with major organizations on talent acquisition transformation projects and campus program launches, but also from my own executive leadership experience. In my experience, the age of the fully utilized Applicant Tracking System paired with strengthened interview and candidate assessment processes has made the cover letter a thing of the past. Although it remains an application component in most organizations, the vast majority of recruiters and TA leaders (thought they may not openly admit it) rarely read the cover letters connected with applicant resumes.
I realize that this may not be a popular opinion and many advisory organizations still push the value of the cover letter to students and job seekers, but I feel that their time is better used tailoring a resume to the opportunity or networking in your target industry.
Volume considerations: Most roles in medium to large companies are filtered through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) so the recruiter can focus their sourcing and selection efforts. Smaller firms have more ability go through a longer list of applicants, but this isn’t the case for large, desirable workplaces. This means that keywords and matching statements already sort and prioritize the resumes and the cover letter in many cases aren’t considered before the recruiter shortlist, if at all.
Executives rarely read them: My experience as an executive and working with them across many industries, is that they very rarely read cover letters. Even less often is it the differentiating factor for a candidate.
80/20: It is my opinion that job seekers are better served tailoring resumes to the role (to better align with the ATS rating requirements and connect with the recruiter looking to screen top talent in) and networking in their field/ researching their target roles. Instead of writing a cover letter, practice sending a well crafted email with your resume and personalized interest in a role directly to the hiring manager or recruiter. That makes you stand out, especially if you have already developed a connection through networking. Don’t tell my HR or recruiter friends I advised that.
Cover Letter = Toast
I fully expect many of you will have a different opinion on cover letters and I would love to hear your thoughts on it.