Matt Lindner, Chicago Tribune
Is the cover letter a lost art when it comes to applying for jobs?
"Electronic application processes make it easier for many candidates to apply, which sometimes means many more applications need to be sorted through before decisions are made," says Andrea Alaimo, director of human resources at Chicago based logistics firm Redwood Logistics. "That may be a reason that cover letters don't hold the same value they used to. Today, we see a small fraction of total applicants also include cover letters"
"Cover letters are becoming less of a requirement and more of an option," says Parker McKenna, a human resources disciplines panelist for the Society for Human Resource Management. "Many recruiters or hiring managers aren't reviewing cover letters if they feel they have gotten a full understanding of the applicant's background by reviewing the resume alone."
Not only are hiring managers glossing over the cover letter, job seekers in many cases are omitting it altogether.
"Only a small percentage of applications we receive include cover letters, perhaps 10 percent," says Tracy McShane-Wilson, executive director of talent acquisition at accounting firm Grant Thornton LLP.
Nationwide, just over half — 55 percent — of all job applicants include a cover letter when applying for a position, according to a recent survey from job board CareerBuilder.
But those who omit a cover letter, or submit one with an obviously halfhearted effort, could be missing out on an opportunity to set themselves apart from the crowd.
"You can generally tell when a candidate is very interested in a particular position and/or the organization, as they will take more time to delve into why the role and/or organization fits well within their own professional goals and passions (in a cover letter)," says Valerie Keels, head of D.C. Office Services for Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance.
The cover letters that hiring managers are getting, by and large, aren't exactly blowing them away.
"Many that we see are generic and thus not that valuable," Alaimo says.
"Letters that only state the obvious, such as the position applied for and advising that a resume has been submitted doesn't generate much interest from the hiring manager," Keels adds.
But a well-written cover letter could be the difference between getting your foot in the door and getting one of those dreaded generic response letters from a company telling you that those in charge of hiring are impressed with your qualifications but have decided to pursue other candidates at this time.
A Grant Thornton spokesman says the company is on pace to hire an estimated 2,500 people this year, a figure that includes interns as well as entry-level and more experienced hires.
McShane-Wilson says she'll receive anywhere from 50 to 100 applications per job posting, on average.
"The number of applicants has increased significantly over time, due to the greater availability of information about open roles through job sites and social media, as well as the much greater ease with which candidates can submit applications," she says. These technology developments have allowed us to vastly expand the potential pool of talent and have greatly increased our candidate traffic."
Given the amount of competition, McShane-Wilson and other hiring managers say putting a little effort into composing a thoughtful cover letter could go a long way.
For one, it tells a hiring manager a lot about how passionate you are about the position you're applying for.
"If you are the type of person that is thorough, fully engaged and takes the time to write a cover letter, then you're probably also the type of person that cares about making sure it is well-written, informative and persuasive," McShane-Wilson says.
Alaimo says she's not the only person involved in the hiring process, and thus not the only one candidates have to impress if they want to make it to the next round of the hiring process.
Including a cover letter tells her and her team a lot about a candidate's most basic communication skills.
"In the end, each hiring manager determines how important mastery of the written word is for the role they are seeking to fill, but confirming good written communication skills can only help our review of a person's total communication skills, from traditional writing skills to our current-day, often-instantaneous technology-based communications methods," she says.
Matt Lindner is a freelancer.