When collating some of our previous articles on career and job seeking advice, I realised that we’d not written anything about cover letters. No advice on what to put in them, what to leave out etc. It got me thinking about whether they still formed a part of the job seeking process or whether they’d become, just like paper based job applications, a thing of the past.
I’m part of what I think of as the ‘in-between generation’. By that I mean I grew up in a pretty much technology free world, but since graduating and joining the world of work in 2001, I’ve been surrounded by technology and seen it take over nearly every aspect of our lives.
I remember my first few jobs after graduation – one was secured via a friend who recommended me and the other I went to a local recruiter who passed my CV on to one of their clients. At no point did I write a covering letter.
Fast forward to 2006 when I next looked for a role, by then jobboards had burst onto the scene and changed the way we all look for work. Again, no covering letter, just a small box to add some supporting text when submitting my application. The same can be said when I looked for my now current role a decade later. I know previously, when on the other side of the fence and recruiting into my team, I was just sent CVs to peruse. I wasn’t given any additional letters or notes that the candidate may have supplied.
Does that mean a cover letter is no longer required?
Part of me wants to say yes – why waste your time crafting a beautifully written letter for no-one to read it. One statistic that always seems to get quoted a lot is that a CV gets given the grand total of about 6 seconds attention before it’s either put in to the yes or no pile. If such little time is given to, what is a very detailed document, then even less would be given to any supporting text.
The idea of a letter in general is now rather old fashioned, I can’t remember the last time I received a letter thought the post that wasn’t a bill. And even those are now becoming common to receive digitally. I would also chose sending an email over printing and posting a letter. I know that cover letters, if they are used, generally aren’t posted but the formality of a properly written and laid out letter feels a tad behind the times.
However, the other part of me feels that perhaps we’re being a bit harsh on the poor cover letter. They still have a useful part to play. But perhaps they just need to be revamped and used in a different way. A CV on its own is a rather bland document, basically just a list of qualifications, positions and achievements. There isn’t much in there to tell the reader about you.
The cover letter or supporting document or whatever you want to call it, gives you the opportunity to tell the recruiter/line manager a little more about yourself, highlight the areas they may not notice, or skip past, when giving your CV those mere 6 seconds of their time. While I wouldn’t attach a cover letter as a separate document to an email, I wouldn’t dream of simply sending my CV without putting anything in the body of the email.
Maybe we should call it a cover email as that is essentially what it is. On the rare occasions I have seen the communication that accompanies a candidate’s CV, a well written one goes a long way to giving me a positive mind-set when reading their CV.
But what about applications made via a job board? While there isn’t generally the option to attach anything other than your CV, most give you a space to add some supporting text. OK so what you write might not get read by the recruiter, let alone the hiring manager, but on the other hand it might. And it might make all the difference. Use that space wisely and explain why you’re the perfect person for the role, how your skills and experience match their requirements and let a bit of your personality show through.
To answer my original question is the cover letter a thing of the past? Yes – You no longer send CVs via post, so a cover letter in the formal sense is no longer required. However, I personally think it has evolved and been replaced by the more informal email or personal statement that you submit when making an application. I wouldn’t apply for a role with just my CV, even if it’s only a short 200-300 words it’s always better to have something than nothing… So watch this space for some upcoming advice on supporting statements to fill an obvious gap in our published careers advice articles.