Cover letters aren’t exactly fun to write, so it’s tempting to look for reasons not to write them at all. The process of applying online often gives us the very excuse we’re searching for. By not explicitly requesting cover letters, digital application portals leave the impression this once-critical document is no longer necessary.
People have been speculating for years that cover letters are dead, but is this really the case? If, despite the naysayers, cover letters are still relevant, what should they look like in 2019?
Cover Letters Still Matter in 2019
Many applicants base the decision not to write a cover letter on the assumption that nobody reads them. It’s true that a fair number of recruiters don’t bother with cover letters, but some definitely do — 26 percent of them, according to the “2017 Job Seeker Nation Study.” That fact alone means cover letters are still important. As long as certain members of the recruiting community consider this document relevant, you should make it a priority. After all, you never know whose hands your application will fall into.
If you fail to write a cover letter and the hiring manager or recruiter wants to see one, your application may go straight to the wastebasket. Moreover, by not writing a cover letter, you rob yourself of the opportunity to express all the things you can’t capture in your resume: who you are as a person, why you want this particular job, what you most respect about the company, why you’re leaving your current position, etc. These are the sort of details that could make or break your shot at the job, especially if you’re being weighed against people with very similar credentials.
Plus, writing a cover letter is a good way to refine your thoughts, pick out the most pertinent details of your career, and prepare for an interview.
Do Certain Industries Value Cover Letters More Than Others?
As a general rule, it doesn’t matter what field you’re in. You should never skip the cover letter.
That said, forgoing a cover letter might be slightly less risky in certain industries. If you work in a sector that requires highly specific hard skills and you’re confident your unique proficiencies — familiarity with complex software, for example — speak for themselves, a cover letter might not matter as much. However, if you work in any field that values communication skills — like writing, marketing, sales, or content creation — a cover letter is a necessary opportunity to demonstrate your abilities.
Regardless of your profession, any cover letter you write must be customized for your industry. Think about the culture and expectations of your sector, and adjust your letter’s tone and format accordingly. If you’re in a playful, innovative field, you might try experimenting with outside-the-box cover letter styles. If you’re in a more formal corporate field, you may want to stick to traditional cover letter guidelines.
What Should Your Cover Letter Include?
In an article for Inc., WorkItDaily.com Founder and CEO J.T. O’Donnell notes the importance of “disruption” in cover letters today. Recruiters and hiring managers are used to seeing the same things from cover letters over and over again. If you want to get noticed, you have to shake things up and surprise your readers. That means staying away from stock-standard formats and done-to-death opening lines in favor of taking your own original approach.
Your first paragraph in particular needs to dazzle readers. A good way to grab attention is to start by telling a personal story that conveys how and why the company’s mission and values resonate with you. The more specific you can be, the better. The best advertising campaigns instantly pull viewers in with emotive narratives. Your cover letter is an ad for yourself, so it should do the same.
You could also consider opening your cover letter with something other than a standard paragraph. For example, a creative bulleted list or quote from a former employer could make your document immediately stand out.
In a separate article for Inc., O’Donnell makes the point that a cover letter should focus on the employer. Rather than harping on about how wonderful the opportunity would be for you, express how wonderful you could be for the company. Show your appreciation of the business’s vision and operational model. Demonstrate that you have a deep understanding of what’s important to the company, and show that the same things are important to you. Do these things, and your cover letter could win you the job (or at least an interview).
How Long Should a Cover Letter Be?
As recruiters are seriously pressed for time, it is more important than ever to keep your cover letter lean and succinct. Concision is the only way you’ll get a talent professional to read to the end.
Some argue you should reduce your letter to a single paragraph, but keep in mind you don’t want it to be so short it says nothing at all. To find a good balance between brevity and detail, make sure every sentence adds huge value. That means deleting anything that doesn’t make an impact, like boring introductions, cliché descriptors, empty bragging, or repeated details from your resume.
In short, the best cover letter for 2019 is one that communicates a lot, with originality, in as few words as possible.