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What's The Deal With Cover Letters? We Surveyed 10k Recruiters and Here's What They Said...

advice Aug 01, 2019
If you're looking for a new job, it might surprise you to know what recruiters really think of cover letters.
 
As someone who recruited for over 15 years, I have my own opinions about cover letters, but when I launched a company to help job seekers across various industries, I wanted to be sure I was giving the appropriate advice. So this year, I unofficially surveyed a group of over 10k recruiters to find out whether or not you should spend your time (or money) on cover letters.
Here’s what they said.
 
Are cover letters read anymore? Aren't they just a formality?

“I only read them if I get irritated if I need to read one and it’s not there” – Anonymous Recruiter

61% of recruiters who responded said cover letters don’t matter. 31% said they do. The rest were indifferent.
 
Personally, when I recruited for tech, I didn’t read cover letters for every role. It’s not that I didn’t want to learn about the candidate, it’s just that their GitHub code or LinkedIn profile told me all I needed to know. That's not saying that I don't think a cover letter shouldn't be included. It can be equally frustrating to a recruiter who wants to see one if a job seeker leaves it out, but your cover letter should be relevant.

Time can be a factor in interviews and spending too much time reading a cover letter can take away from a character assessment, body language, dialog, and Q&A. In tech, cover letters were less important. But for recruiters hiring for HR, operations or finance, they want to see how a person communicates in writing, and cover letters help with that.

80% of Recruiters are finding too many junk resumes on job boards so they turning to cover letter for help.

“If done right, a well-crafted cover letter will answer a lot of questions before starting a conversation. I would rather get a lot of the basics out of the way so we can focus on the important details.” – Anonymous Recruiter
 

Here’s what they want to see:

• Don’t overdo it:
Some job seekers don't write their own cover letters or they might "fluff" their experience which can quickly be uncovered with interview questions. It's a waste of time. Your level of experience should match what you list on your resume, so never inflate your experience, it’s a waste of everyone’s time.
 
• Personalize it:
Another concern is job seekers that state, "Dear Hiring Manager". I don't even read these. I know these are generic with no emphasis on personalizing it for my available role. Be brief, concise, use keywords specific to that job, and state why you are the best fit, can meet challenges specific to that role, and promote your strengths. Provide insight into your motivations, career movements - or career changes.
 

“I normally see a ‘dear hiring manager’ and stop reading right away…their cv tends to not be a great fit for the position when this is the case too. My details and name are right there, so I’m not sure why they don’t address me personally.” – Anonymous Recruiter

 
 
A short and concise cover letter can give you an edge.
 
Job seekers who want a better work life balance, or are transitioning careers, need to take the time with cover letters. About 250 resumes are received for every corporate job opening, but only about 6 candidates are interviewed. According to our survey, job seekers should follow these tips:
 
• Keep the cover letter focused on that particular job opening
• Summarize where you found the posting and what you have to contribute to the company
• Include what you have in common with the job description and why you would be a good fit
 
“Yes, I read them. I’m currently recruiting for a non-profit. However, when recruiting for HR I usually don’t. The resume is usually good enough.” – Anonymous Recruiter
 
The bottom line, a cover letter helps if it's concise and personalized. A cover letter that's well-written, detailed, and addresses the recruiter personally can make a difference. It can get faster responses with interviewing and might help with narrowing down candidates in the hiring process.

“I read everything… a bad cover letter does not negate a strong resume.”- Anonymous Recruiter

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