Are Cover Letters Dead? We Surveyed Over 10K Recruiters and Here's What They Said
If you're looking for a new job, it might surprise you to know what recruiters really think of cover letters. As someone who recruited for over fifteen years, I have my own opinions about cover letters, but when I launched a company to help job seekers across various industries, I wanted to be sure I was giving the appropriate advice.
So this year, I unofficially surveyed a group of over 10k recruiters to find out whether or not you should spend your time (or money) on cover letters. Here’s what they said.
“I only read them if I get irritated if I need to read one and it’s not there.” –Anonymous Recruiter
61% of recruiters who responded said cover letters don’t matter. 31% said they do. The rest were indifferent. Personally, when I recruited for tech, I didn’t read cover letters for every role. It’s not that I didn’t want to learn about the candidate, it’s just that their GitHub code or LinkedIn profile told me all I needed to know.
That's not to say that I think a cover letter shouldn't be included. If a recruiter wants to see one, it can be equally frustrating to see a job seeker leave it out. Your cover letter should be available and relevant.
Time can be a factor in interviews, and spending too much time reading a cover letter can take away from character assessment, body language, dialogue, and Q&A. When I recruited for tech, cover letters were less important to me. But recruiters hiring for HR, operations, or finance want to see how a person communicates, and cover letters help with that.
80% of recruiters say they find too many junk resumes on job boards, so they turn to cover letters for help.
“If done right, a well-crafted cover letter will answer a lot of questions before starting a conversation. I would rather get a lot of the basics out of the way so we can focus on the important details.” –Anonymous Recruiter
[Related: Time to Pivot: Taking Steps to a New Career]
Here’s what they want to see:
- Don’t overdo it. Some job seekers don't write their own cover letters, or they might "fluff" their experience, which can quickly be uncovered with interview questions. Your level of experience should match what you list on your resume, so never inflate your experience. It's a waste of everyone’s time.
- Personalize your cover letter. Another concern is when job seekers address letters as, "Dear Hiring Manager." I don't even read these. I know these are generic, with no emphasis on personalizing them for my available role. Be brief and concise, use keywords specific to the job, and state why you are the best fit and can meet challenges specific to the role. Promote your strengths and provide insight into your motivations and career movements (i.e. career changes).
63% of recruiters aren't finding suitable candidates to fill job openings.
“I normally see a ‘dear hiring manager’ and stop reading right away…their CV tends to not be a great fit for the position when this is the case too. My details and name are right there, so I’m not sure why they don’t address me personally.” –Anonymous Recruiter
A short and concise cover letter can give you an edge.
Job seekers who want a better work-life balance, or are transitioning careers, need to take the time with cover letters. About 250 resumes are received for every corporate job opening, but only about six candidates are interviewed.
“Yes, I read them. I’m currently recruiting for a non-profit. However, when recruiting for HR I usually don’t. The resume is usually good enough.” –Anonymous Recruiter
According to our survey, job seekers should follow these tips:
- Keep the cover letter focused on that particular job opening.
- Summarize where you found the posting and what you can contribute to the company.
- Include what you have in common with the job description and why you would be a good fit.
The bottom line: A cover letter helps if it's concise and personalized. A cover letter that's well-written, detailed, and addresses the recruiter personally can make a difference. It can get faster responses with interviewing and might help with narrowing down candidates in the hiring process.
“I read everything…a bad cover letter does not negate a strong resume.” –Anonymous Recruiter
Tracy Saunders is a recruiter, author, and job search advisor who's on a mission to help women land great jobs, faster. Her 15+ years in recruiting and work at top-tier companies like Google and Amazon have provided her with a unique perspective and the expertise to empower women with their job search. She's the founder of Women's Job Search Network, which equips women across all industries and levels with the tools they need to shift from confused, stuck, or passive to confident and efficient.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
Women's Job Search Network
Tracy Saunders is recruiter, author and job search advisor who's on a mission to help women land great jobs, faster. Her 15+ years in recruiting and her work at top-tier companies like Google and Amazon have provided her with a unique perspective and the expertise to empower women with their job search. She launched Women's Job Search Network to equip women across all industries and levels with the tools they need to shift from confused, stuck... Continue Reading
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