The Way We Work

Is the Cover Letter Dead? What Works Instead?

by Preston Lee
Is the Cover Letter Dead? What Works Instead?

For years, recruiters and applicants alike have been asking, "Are cover letters dead?" Let's face it: There are better ways to get the best candidates.

Next time you’re applying for a job, ask yourself this question: "Is the cover letter dead?"

We say they are.

Because almost 75% of recruiters don’t think reading your cover letter is even worth their time.

That means, for every four soul-sucking, time-demanding, stress-inducing cover letters you write during a job search, believing everything hinges on this "first impression," only one of them was worth all that time and effort. Maybe not even then.

In fact, of the small fraction who actually care about a cover letter, only about 36% of them read it first during the hiring process—and only if your resume seems promising.

That’s insane.

Compound those stats with the fact that millions of people are still on the job search following the pandemic, and the chances of a recruiter taking time to read your cover letter are even lower.

Cover Letters Are Dead Because Recruiters Don’t Read Them

The anecdotal evidence speaks loudly, too. HR recruiters and employers on Reddit, in news interviews, and in forums agree: Cover letters are basically a waste of time.

"I don't even look at cover letters unless everything else on the resume is good," one recruiter on Reddit explains.

They’re not alone. I found dozens of recruiters and HR managers who agree, including one HR manager at DocuSign: "As a recruiter myself I don’t look at cover letters at all. The resume is all that matters."

If Cover Letters Are Dead, Why Do Companies Still Request Them?

So if cover letters aren’t as effective as they used to be—if the very people running the hiring process aren't reading them—then why do so many companies still request that you send a cover letter when applying for a job?

Simple: tradition. 

While it’s not entirely clear why and how companies looking to hire first started requiring cover letters, it’s a tradition that slowly crept into job search practices in the early 1900s (here's the full, nerdy history of the cover letter).

While cover letters may have originally served purposes, such as stating salary requirements or explaining additional information not understood from the resume, since then, the purpose of the cover letter has become... well… murky at best.

A simple Google search for "why submit a cover letter" will prove our point. All 10 listings on the first page of Google give different reasons for sending a cover letter—and none of them are really that good.

That’s why cover letters have been dying for a long time. As long as nine years ago, people have been predicting the imminent death of the cover letter.

HR Expert Dara Silvergate said this in 2012: "To be honest, I don’t look at cover letters. We get thousands of resumes a year, and I don’t have the time to read them."

Cover Letters Just Don’t Make Sense in the Internet Era

The truth is: Cover letters might have worked well in an age where the only information a hiring professional could find about you during a job search was what you sent them in the mail.

But we live in an age where there are millions of data points about us all over the internet. 

If you believe a recruiter is going to take your cover letter and resume at face value, you’re sadly mistaken.

One SHRM report suggests as much as 93% of recruiters are using social media to learn more about you, your abilities, your work history, and more.

Kristina Finseth agrees: "Seriously, I can count on one hand how many times I have actually read through an applicant's cover letter in my [12+ year] recruiting career."

Add to that the ever-changing landscape of applying for jobs using video submission tools like HireVue, and the job of the cover letter becomes less and less important.

So If Not a Cover Letter, Then What?

At this point, it’s pretty clear: Cover letters are dead. 

They’re a waste of time. 

As Orbitz worldwide recruiter Dana Kerns put it: "Applicants are wasting time with cover letters… Often, the cover letter doesn't even follow the resume through the application review process."

There's more. Some employers believe that cover letters simply present another opportunity for candidates to "pad" their application—essentially being untruthful about what abilities or experience they have.

Instead, a potential employer might ask you to take a CCAT (Criteria Cognitive Aptitude Test), which helps offer an objective view of your problem-solving abilities, your capability of learning important information or new skills, and your capacity for critical thinking.

Paired with a strong resume, a CCAT test is a much more honest and reliable way for recruiters to find the right employees for their team.

That’s not to say you should never submit another cover letter again in your life. Sometimes, a cover letter is simply a "barrier to entry" for a recruiter trying to see who can and can’t follow simple directions.

If a recruiter asks for a cover letter, send one. Just don’t lose sleep over it—they likely won’t even read it, anyway. 

Practicing What We Preach

Here at Crossover, we practice what we preach. And not requiring cover letters for our applicants has paid off in spades.

The hard truth for many job recruiters who prefer to clock in and clock out every day without thinking outside the box of HR tradition, is that requiring cover letters for every job is simply outdated dinosaur thinking.

They’re just not necessary.

Cover letters waste precious time for hiring teams, recruiters, and job hunters alike. And if the only reason you’re sending cover letters with job applications or requesting them as a recruiter is because "you always have," then it’s time to stop and rethink: “Do I need a cover letter?” The answer is probably "no."

Be intentional about the hiring process no matter which side you're on, and it’ll be a better experience for everyone involved.