August 20, 2014

Is the Cover Letter Dying or Being Reborn?

Close up of vintage old typewriter keysIs the cover letter dead or slowly dying in the face of exciting social media alternatives? Or is it alive and kicking? The industry is a little schizophrenic on this issue, as although surveys show that 90 percent of cover letters are ignored, many companies still ask for cover letters but the number is reducing. According to this 2014 SHRM study, just 33 percent of companies with under 500 people ask for a cover letter compared to just 17 percent of employers with more than 500 staff. So, cover letters are not dead, but dying and probably of lower importance in larger organizations.

But, even if a cover letter is not asked for, there are plenty of situations where a cover letter is recommended—and will be beneficial. For example, if you need to explain a previous termination, you are making a career/industry change, or returning from a period of unemployment, etc. If there are obvious question marks in a resume, then these should be answered in a cover letter, which means that cover letters will always have a place in the corporate world in these situations.

So, while I don’t quite think that cover letters are dead, they are losing their power to differentiate you from the rest as they are increasingly not being read and not being asked for. Most employers probably use them as more of a de-selection tool (if people don’t include one) than a differentiation tool. This is why I think, in the current paper format, cover letters are not dead but limited in their ability to make a big impact apart from the specific situations as mentioned directly above. I do, however think that they are dying.

But, video technology has created the opportunity to inject life back into the the cover letter. Now, I am not just jumping on the ‘social-media-will-fix-all’ bandwagon, and if I was, I’d just be shouting “video resume” repeatedly at the top of my voice. I am talking specifically about the additional emotional content that can be conveyed in a impassioned but authentic video cover letter message over what can be achieved in a written cover letter. Cover letters are about showing your conviction, passion and fit (whereas video resumes are more of a news reading exercise).

Most of you must know the frustration of being passionate about a role or company and just wishing that you could get into the interview room to show them your energy, enthusiasm, authenticity, commitment, sense of purpose, etc. A video cover letter could enable to you to fast forward that experience and bring it right into the recruiter’s inbox. You can leap right into their computer screen with your video cover letter and explain with passion and authenticity why you really want this role; why you think this career change is right; and show that truly passionate, engaged and intelligent person sitting behind the stereotype that the recruiter may have of you. Done well, a video cover letter gives you an opportunity to deliver a powerful and compelling speech, which showcases your true, zeal, passion and authenticity.

So, in truth, I think the traditional cover letter is not dead, but dying. It is in the process of evolution and being reborn into the more socially resonant, emotionally appealing video cover message—and it’s up to candidates to start using it.

Read more in Cover Letter

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.