In the age of professional social platforms and automated application processes, has the cover letter become an anachronism, or is it still necessary to help differentiate yourself from the pack?
According to one recent report, hiring managers barely even have time to read CVs, spending an average of only about six seconds glancing over a resume to find vital information to help identify candidates who might be suitable for an interview, so they certainly don't have time to look at a covering letter.
Many hiring managers who would have historically found a cover helpful letter to find out something more about a candidate than just their work history now often prefer to browse LinkedIn or similar platforms to glean more comprehensive information about an applicant's personality and character to assist with the selection process.
This explains why 58% of professionals surveyed in October stated that they think cover letters are redundant, and only 10% of those asked felt that they were necessary when applying for a job.
Additionally, with some companies choosing to utilise automated CV filtering software, a cover letter is unlikely to add any value when trying to get past the AI Bots, which are generally tailored to look for keywords in a CV which match a job description.
However, perhaps surprisingly, there is also an opinion in the market that while a cover letter is not entirely necessary, a well-written cover document does allow you to demonstrate to a prospective employer that you would be a good fit for their business – something which a massive 83% of recruiters agree with according to industry experts, resumelab.com.
Therefore, an alternative viewpoint is that there is never any harm in including a cover letter, even if one is not requested, especially if it is listed as 'optional' as part of the application. While it may never be read during the recruitment process, should a hiring manager or recruiter be struggling to differentiate between two very similar CVs, your cover letter could sway the decision in your direction, as it shows that you have used initiative to include one if it wasn't requested, or that you have put in the extra effort if a cover letter was optional.
What makes a good cover letter in 2023?
If you use a cover letter, a few tips can make writing it worthwhile. Firstly is to ensure it is accurate and error-free. Submitting a letter with spelling or grammatical mistakes could be more detrimental than not sending one.
Be concise. General guidance suggests that a cover letter should be a maximum of a page in length. As highlighted above, many recruiters and hiring managers have minimal time to read applications, so keeping a letter to just a few key points makes it more likely to be read.
It is also advisable to avoid repeating what is on your CV. Instead, try to include information which enhances your application. Around 50% of HR professionals say that cover letters help explain a candidate's motivation to join their company, their career objectives, reasons for changing careers, explaining any employment gaps and highlighting professional achievements, which can be good themes to include.
Use a suitable tone.
Aim to sound professional but also enthusiastic about the role and the company. If you are unsure of the organisation's tone, you can use the job advert or company website to give you a better idea of how to pitch the tone of your letter.
Finally, check that you are following any guidelines set out in the job advert which might request the inclusion of specific information in your covering document. Of course, never include a cover letter if the application process explicitly says not to send one.
So, the jury is out on whether cover letters are still relevant in 2023, a digital age where recruiters and hiring managers are pushed for time and often use social media to find out more about applicants they are interested in. However, the best advice is to err on the side of caution and write a cover letter anyway, ensuring it is brief, accurate and makes you sound enthusiastic about the role. In a crowded market, it could be what helps you to stand out from the pack and secure an interview.