Cover letters are the bane of job searches. Nobody likes to write them. Nobody likes to read them. Some hiring managers and recruiters admit to throwing out cover letters without reading them. Still I love them.
Just to be clear, I like to get them. I hate to write them. They are a pain in the neck, and although I write for a living, I find cover letters challenging to write.
Still, they are a valuable resource for job seekers and hiring managers alike. I can 100 percent support making cover letters optional, but always give an option. This is why.
If the job can’t be done everywhere, you may be wondering why someone who lives across the country — or the world — applied for your open position. Don’t they pay attention to the location? Do they think you’ll bow to that location requirement and let them work from home on the beach in Bali?
There’s no place on a resume to say, “I’m moving to your city in July.” Sure, you can put it at the top, but this is a time when a cover letter can come in handy.
Career changes sometimes need more explanation.
If you are looking for a senior accountant and are getting a resume from someone who is clearly an accountant, a cover letter is not necessary. You have an accounting vacancy open, and this person is an accountant! It’s all clear.
But what if you hire someone for a position in marketing and all the job titles on the resume are accounting titles. Has this person requested everything? Did they make a mistake? Or do they want to change jobs?
In this situation, a cover letter can explain why they want to leave accounting and get into marketing. They can add details that don’t fit well on a resume. And even if they work well on a resume, the average recruiter spends seven seconds deciding whether to proceed or not. Even though this person could be a good match, all those accounting titles could send the resume to the trash.
Sometimes you get a lot of applicants.
Yes, even if there is a general labor shortage, that doesn’t mean there aren’t positions that will attract literally hundreds of qualified applicants. You don’t have time to personally screen a hundred qualified candidates, so cover letters can help you find what you’re looking for.
Note: do not give cover letters too much power.
If you’re hiring writers, a well-crafted cover letter can be critical. If you’re hiring a credit manager, don’t stress the cover letter’s literary qualities. It should be about the information, not the prose.
While I don’t think this will stop people from hating cover letters, consider making them optional. What you learn can help you hire better.