Are Cover Letters Pointless?

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Businessman Sitting Besides Dustbin We’ve all had to write one: the dreaded cover letter. It’s no surprise that applying for a job can take up a great deal of time, and having to also submit a cover letter certainly doesn’t shorten the process.

Sometimes those online applicant tracking systems can take up to 30-45 minutes to fill in (I especially hate the ones that require you to manually add all your work history like the hiring manager won’t already see that you’ve done this in your resume!). And some even require applicants to take assessment and skills tests, which can take anywhere from another 30 minutes to one hour. So, to add a “cover letter required” stamp onto the process just makes it that much worse for job seekers. Especially as they listen to the tons of advice out there on “perfecting your cover letter.”

This is no easy task. Unlike a resume where you may have to modify your objective statement and a few skills and/or experiences depending on the role, a cover letter’s tailoring process can be much more extensive.

You have to edit details, such as:

  • Company name, address, phone number;
  • Date;
  • Addressee (not to mention the time spent trying to find who the hiring manager is if a name isn’t immediately provided);
  • Reason for applying;
  • Relevant work experience; and
  • How your skills make you the best candidate for that particular position.

As a job seeker who always makes sure to tailor her cover letter for each position I apply for, let me tell you, this task sucks up a large chunk of time during the job hunt.

And as you learn more about the hiring process and how recruiters and hiring managers aren’t even spending 10 seconds looking at a person’s resume, you can’t help but begin to wonder, What’s the point?

What exactly is the point?

This is the question my cousin recently asked me after he applied for a job. When filling out the application, he noticed that the system left an option to add a cover letter, but it wasn’t required. So, he skipped it.

Was this the right thing to do? Are cover letters truly necessary during today’s job search, especially if a job ad doesn’t list this document as a requirement when applying?

I think cover letters are very important and useful when directly submitting an application—that is, when you’re required to apply by sending certain materials to a specific email address. This is very different from applying through an ATS because applicants should put their cover letters directly in the body of the email, which immediately shows the recruiter or hiring manager that you’re interested in the job. They’re much more professional than simply writing, “I saw your job ad and am sending my resume to apply.” After all, you are looking to secure a job, not respond to a Craigslist ad.

But, if you are required to apply via an ATS where a cover letter is optional, unlike a direct email, your cover letter may not be the first information a hiring manager sees. So, is it a big deal?

Well, like the familiar saying goes, “It doesn’t hurt to…” Even if the job ad doesn’t say you need to include a cover letter, submitting one anyway could be beneficial.

Oftentimes cover letters are more than just professional way to tell HR that you’re applying for  a job; they can give recruiters and hiring managers a great deal of information about applicants aside from their resume.

A few examples include:

Writing skills

Cover letters require applicants to write…duh.  But, it’s not just about having a job seeker demonstrate his/her interest through writing, it’s about determining whether or not an applicant (and potential hire) can write well.

Hiring managers will definitely look for the basics. Can the person spell? Can he or she put together a complete sentence? Does the letter flow? Does it even make sense?

These details are extremely important to a recruiter as he or she wants to see firsthand that applicants have quality writing skills. Because, oftentimes, no matter what type of position you’re applying for, it will require you to do some form of writing.

Articulation capabilities

Cover letters are designed for job seekers to express why they should be considered for the next step in the hiring process—the interview. One must be able to adequately articulate this to a hiring manager. If on paper you can’t convince HR to give you a second glance, the people in this department are much less likely to be convinced that you’re worthy of an interview, and even less for the job.

Detailed background information

Another thing cover letters can offer hiring managers during the recruitment process is detail. Your resume can only tell a recruiter so much because it doesn’t offer the space for details. This is where cover letters step in. They give you the chance to not only fully explain how the skills and experiences on your resume qualify you for the position, but opportunities to provide relevant, detailed examples from your work history. They can also help you go in depth as you explain what “implemented an effective social media strategy” really means and why that’s significant to the position and potential employer.

By Shala Marks