Should You Require a Cover Letter?

The dreaded cover letter. Some recruiters love them, and others have little use for them. But there’s one thing everyone seems to agree on — job seekers hate writing them. Cover letters often veer toward boring and formulaic, or over-the-top. For those candidates who manage to strike just the right balance of brevity, data-backed performance statements and personality, they’re left to wonder: Was the effort worth it?

Research suggests employers are relying less on cover letters than they have in the past. One recent study found 63% of recruiters consider cover letters to be of low importance, and another study found just 18% of hiring managers think cover letters are an important part of an application.

As technology plays an increasingly crucial role in the application and screening processes, should recruiters and hiring managers continue to require candidates to submit a cover letter?

Some talent professionals still see value in cover letters

Cover letters have long provided a window into a candidate’s personality, creativity and attention to detail, and some hiring managers continue to rely on them as an important vetting tool. For roles that require exceptional writing skills, for example, the cover letter can provide useful information to help qualify applicants.

If reviewed, these introductory letters can help recruiters get a sense of who a candidate is, and give job seekers a chance to showcase their personality and highlight accomplishments in ways that are not easily gleaned from their resume. With today’s emphasis on hiring for culture fit, these tidbits can be invaluable — and might have the added benefit of speeding up the process of finding the best candidates for an available position.

“I believe cover letters provide us with a view into the person and insight into how they view their credentials and fitting into the organization,” says senior recruiter Mary Helen Foglia. “Sometimes it provides us insight into what we believe their legacy will be here.”

Cover letters themselves are a test in following instructions and some managers rely on them to whittle down huge numbers of applicants, only advancing those who meet this minimal requirement.

Technology has changed the role cover letters play in hiring

As matching the right candidates to the right jobs has become increasingly automated by technology and a wealth of candidate information is easily retrievable online, many companies believe they simply don’t need cover letters anymore. Today there are other ways to learn about a candidate — often with greater nuance and detail. Hiring managers can check out candidates’ online footprint via their personal websites or blogs, online portfolios and social media profiles.

“Hiring managers now use other methods to get a feel for applicants without leaving their desks,” writes Sarah Grant for Bloomberg. “That makes the four-paragraph missive about passions and key skills superfluous at best, and a liability at worst.”

With online and mobile applications as the new the norm, more companies are prioritizing speed…

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