April 6, 2015

The Cover Letter Is Dead

TearRecruiting is a fast-paced and ever-changing industry in which we have to constantly keep up with the latest hiring trends and anticipate future shifts in the job market that are effected by various complex factors. Especially in my field of recruiting for technology industry sales, marketing, and business development positions, we have to stay at the forefront of the latest innovations so we can “talk the talk” with some of our industry’s smartest, fastest thinking, and most in-demand talent. 

Even though our work as recruiters is at the vanguard of the 21st century digital economy, why are so many job candidates still sending cover letters that look like they’d be more at home in the 1950s? Even though we live in an era of instantaneous global communications and draw upon connections of deep social networks in our personal and professional lives, too many candidates are still sending cover letters that are better suited to a pre-digital era of mailing resumes on paper and making cold calls to complete strangers who have never heard of you before. 

Too many cover letters are stiffly written and overly formal. They’re too long — they go on and on about the candidate’s qualifications even though the candidate’s full job history is available on the resume. Worst of all, in a short-attention-span society where every second is precious, cover letters are boring. Too many candidates treat cover letters as if they were a perfunctory last step in the process of hitting “send” on an email, with no real sense of urgency, salesmanship, or pizzazz to grab the reader’s attention. 

As recruiters, we need to reevaluate and raise the standards for what a cover letter really means in 2015. 

The traditional cover letter is dead. Let’s educate job candidates on the right things to say in a cover letter:  

Send an Email Instead

The first mistake many candidates make is including their cover letters as separate email attachments. Those attachments will probably never get read — most recruiters would prefer to just read the candidate’s resume, rather than click and download two separate attachments. This means that the concept of the cover letter as a separate document is totally outdated.

Instead of even taking the time to create a cover letter document, candidates should just focus on writing a concise, compelling email. The email — with a resume attached — is the new cover letter. 

Make the Cover Letter Email Count

People tend to devalue the importance of writing good email messages. Many job candidates might assume that “It’s just an email” and dash off a quickly written, sloppily worded message that looks like it was sent from a mobile phone and typed with a thumb while riding on a bus (“Here’s my resume, thx!”). 

The truth is that email is still one of the most powerful and important forms of business communication. Don’t underestimate the opportunity to make a good first impression with recruiters just by being able to craft an effective email message. Remember: cover letters (as separate attachments) are irrelevant now. The only opportunity that candidates have to say something to the hiring manager is in the email itself. 

In reading a cover letter email, recruiters and hiring managers want to get a quick sense of the candidate’s qualifications, whether the candidate is a good fit, and whether the candidate is connected to anyone at the company. They also want to get an impression of the candidate’s overall professionalism, attention to detail, and business communication skills. 

Does this sound like a lot of information to pack into a single email? Here’s how it’s done: 

Use This Cover Letter Email Guide

Here is a quick guide that candidates can use to create effective, useful, highly readable email cover letters: 

  • Keep It Concise: Your email should be short and to the point. Most recruiters don’t have time to read every email we get from candidates; instead, we tend to scan through the emails to find relevant information and quickly do the mental sorting process of figuring out which candidates are most worthy of additional follow-up time and attention.
  • Explain How You Heard About the Job and if You Know Anyone Who works at the Company: Companies love to hire from within the networks of their existing employees — if you have a connection to someone at the company, be sure to mention it prominently in the email.
  • Mention Which Job You’re Applying For: This sounds simple, but many candidates neglect to specify which position they’re applying for. Be sure to use the correct job title and any identifying numbers or codes listed on the job posting. This shows the recruiter that you have good attention to detail and that you care about making the recruiter’s job easier.
  • Explain How Your Skills and Personality Make You a Good Fit: Talk a bit about the overall reason why you’re applying for the job. What about your previous experience has prepared you? Why does this company sound appealing, based on what you know about the company culture?
  • Include Your Availability for an Interview: Offer some general timeframes in which you’d be available to talk by phone for an initial conversation — but be specific. If you can’t talk on Tuesday afternoons, don’t offer them as an option. Don’t waste the recruiter’s time.
  • Don’t Get Fancy With Your Email Signature: Lots of people use elaborate email signatures with inspirational quotes and/or clip art, but this is unnecessary and distracting in a professional job search email. Use a simple, unadorned email signature with your name, phone number, email address, and personal website (if necessary for sharing a work portfolio). Make it easy for recruiters to quickly access your contact information without bombarding them with visual clutter.

Cover letters may be dead, but smart, effective business communication is more important than ever. With these cover letter email tips in mind, candidates can help recruiters spend less time slogging through unnecessary attachments and cumbersome cover letter phrasing, and spend more time placing great people in great jobs!

Read more in Cover Letter

Carolyn Betts is the founder and CEO of Betts Recruiting, a global recruiting firm with office locations in San Francisco, New York, Austin, and Dublin, Ireland. Carolyn is a sixth generation Bay Area native and is actively involved in the community, serving as a board member of the UCSF Partners in Care, an officer of the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals, and a member of Young Presidents' Organization.

Betts Recruiting focuses on fast growing, innovative tech companies to build out revenue-generating talent roles to include sales, marketing, and customer success at all levels. Betts has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Women-Owned Businesses, and was named one of the Best Places to Work and Fastest Growing Companies in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Business Times.

Betts’ clients include: New Relic, GuideSpark, Mixpanel, ON24, Radius, ToutApp, Zenefits, and more!

Follow Carolyn Betts and Betts Recruiting on Twitter "@BettsRecruiting" and on LinkedIn.