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Cover Letters Probably Don’t Matter, But You Still Need One


The job hunting process occasionally veers into the absurd, requiring job seekers to jump through hoops seemingly for no reason at all. Think of all the times you had to upload a resume into an applicant tracking system … and then summarize your work experience on the next screen. And, how often have you sat down to write a cover letter, only to come up blank because your resume already includes everything you’d want to say? Well, good news/bad news on that last front, job seekers: a recent survey shows that your disdain for the cover-letter part of job searching is justified. The question is whether you’ll ever be allowed to stop writing them.


(Photo Credit: JD Hancock/Flickr)

Jobvite’s eighth annual Recruiter Nation survey includes input from 1,404 HR professionals across a variety of industries to determine what the job market looks like to recruiters right now.

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“In a competitive and complex job market, relationships reign supreme,” the study’s summary says, noting that 78 percent of recruiters “find their best quality candidates through referrals.”

Recruiters also reported success finding candidates through professional and social networks (56 percent) and intern programs (55 percent.) Ninety-two percent of those surveyed said they were active on social media for recruiting purposes.

So Relationships Are Important. What’s Not Important?

Sixty-three percent said cover letters were unimportant, rating that part of the application a 1 or 2 (on a scale of 1 to 5, in which 5 was most important). Interestingly, recruiters were similarly disinterested in GPA, with 57 percent rating grades as unimportant.

If you find that hard to swallow, you’re not alone.

Forbes has been in hiring mode recently, and we’ve seen a lot of resumes and cover letters,” writes Susan Adams, in her article about the survey. “Since we prize clear, fluid prose, we care a lot about those cover letters. Poor grammar and typos are red flags as is canned language that makes it clear the candidate hasn’t bothered to read the website and the magazine. A 4.0 college grade point average signals that the applicant has been a hardworking student and most likely, a quick study, qualities we value.”

Adams also notes an important caveat to keep in mind while looking at these survey results: Jobvite’s core business is helping recruiters find candidates through social networks, and some (although not all) of the respondents are customers. Still, it’s worth using this information as a jumping-off point to ask which part of the job application process is most worth candidates’ time.

When Cover Letters Matter, They Matter a Lot

It’s difficult to get hard data on how many recruiters actually read cover letters. For one thing, we’re relying on self-reporting, which is notoriously unreliable when it comes to questions like these. But we do have some instructive anecdotes upon which to draw. For example, at LinkedIn, Jeff Lareau, Workforce Development Program Manager at CompTIA, discusses his recent informal survey of his colleagues, which concluded that 60 percent don’t read cover letters at all. Lareau cautions job seekers, however, against deciding not to bother. 

“Before you angrily throw your binder of cover letters into the toilet, let me explain,” he writes. “You see, there are still a significant amount of employers who put a very high emphasis on the cover letter. While this amount might be less than the number of employers ignoring your cover letters, it’s still a significant enough number that not submitting the document could be highly damaging to your application. In other words: Keep writing cover letters!

Bottom Line: You Never Know Who’s Reading

When you send in your cover letter, it might get tossed to the side, or pored over like your master’s thesis. You just don’t know. It depends on the person who grabs your resume from the stack, virtual or actual, and the company doing the hiring.

The best way to use survey findings like these is to help you tailor your cover letter to grab the attention of recruiters who do read it, which means:

1. Emphasizing relationships. Do you come recommended by someone at the company? Don’t be shy. Mention it up front.

2. Demonstrating cultural fit. Eighty-eight person of respondents said that culture fit was very important in a candidate.

3. Highlighting your relevant experience. Eighty-seven person said “previous job experience was key.” Don’t waste time with unrelated accomplishments and jobs. Edit your cover letter and CV with this particular job in mind.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think cover letters will ever become a thing of the past? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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