Q: No one talks about cover letters anymore. Are they dead? Do companies even read these? I have spent a lot of time my time crafting my cover letters and it seems like very few recruiters even read them. When I apply for a job online, they don’t even seem to want to see a cover letter.
A: Before technology transformed the hiring process, a cover letter used to be the window to a candidate’s resume. I think they were an integral part of a candidate’s first introduction to a company, with the resume following closely behind. However, they were more common and almost expected back when we shared resumes via a piece of paper.
Now, I think much of what used was formerly shared in a cover letter, is now more often shared in a cover email. Few of us receive hard copies of resumes anymore, since now a resume is often delivered electronically.
Some of our clients still like to review a cover letter (in the body of an email) for a few reasons. First, we like to learn how a candidate writes. Can a candidate compose complete sentences? Is a candidate detail-oriented and organized? Does the candidate know the difference between their, they’re and there? Some of my clients require a cover letter because a candidate’s ability to compose a letter is important to them. Second, the cover email should link a candidate’s work experience to the role of interest. Candidates should use the cover letter as an opportunity to highlight relevant work experiences or skills. Make it easy for the reader to understand why this candidate is qualified for the role. “Let’s contact this candidate” is the goal.
You raise an important point. Often when a candidate submits a resume online, a cover letter is not required. Further, when a candidate completes an online application form, sometimes even a resume is not part of the application process.
I will make one admission. I only read a cover letter IF the resume interests me. I review the resume first. If the resume presents a strong candidate, I will review the cover letter (or cover email).
I would focus my time and energy on the resume first. Resumes are still the most critical document in any career-related discussion.
Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.