These days, job searches tend to be digital. Between automated resume intake forms, network connections and instant skill matchups, highlighting one’s potential has never been easier. But what ever happened to the good, old-fashioned cover letter? We still hear of them being used—but just how effective are they? And when, exactly, are cover letters necessary?
When it comes to job-searching, time and money go hand in hand. And it’s only natural to wonder if cover letters are still effective.
The Modern Job Search
Let’s face it: A lot of companies don’t request cover letters. Many industries are competitive, and making a custom-tailored cover letter for every job app is totally tough. We don’t mail out resumes, these days, and some even say in-person job requests are a thing of the past. Are cover letters necessary when approaching the ‘digital management?’
We may not see the hiring pipeline for ourselves, when submitting job apps online, but studies continue to show just how important cover letters are. A recent study, for example, reflected that about 86 percent of today’s executives consider cover letters to be incredibly valuable hiring tools. “A whopping eight out of 10 managers,” the study concluded, stated that cover letters commonly accompanied electronic resumes.
Are Cover Letters Necessary in Every Case?
In most cases, they are.
It’s important to note, though, that hiring pools packed with cover letters don’t exist in every industry. Or at every level of job-related experience. The same study, for example, covered hiring managers seeking potential candidates for administrative positions. In another study conducted by the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) in Nashville, TN, it was found that recruiters only spend six seconds reading a resume itself.
Some Jobs Require Cover Letters Up Front
It’s important to consider that some jobs require a cover letter ‘ticket’ at the gate. If a job does require this, something interesting might happen: Another study suggested that only 18 percent of hiring managers, in these situations, consider cover letters to be important. Yikes.
When it comes to cover letters, things can definitely get confusing. Sometimes, cover letters are a no-go—actually hindering your resume’s chance of making an impact. Eye-catching resumes are read more often, but even interesting credentials can be overshadowed by a cover letter’s bulk.
So, what about cases where cover letters are good to go? As it turns out, there are a few rules of thumb that’ll make handing in your next resume a little easier. Sometimes, a cover letter can only boost your chance of getting hired.
Check out these situations below:
Situation One: When the Job Asks for One
Even if required cover letters might not get the attention they deserve, we should still take a concerted effort when making them. Sometimes, a business simply requests a cover letter. This shouldn’t be seen as a hoop to jump through, however: About 53 percent of all employers, it turns out, think that resumes, alone, don’t properly reflect a person’s seriousness about a job. So are cover letters necessary or not?
Let’s take another look at the low cover letter interest—but from a different angle: 18 percent of one study’s hiring managers may not favor cover letters, but this is, likely, more about prioritization. A cover letter by itself may not cut the cake, interest-wise, but it may not hinder our resumes as much as we thought.
Job-seeking is tough, in any event, and approximately 47 percent of job-seekers write cover letters at all! When created with care, a cover letter can always bring out your resume’s best aspects. So, whenever there are cover letters necessary for a hiring process, never skip yours. More importantly, try to avoid using a more generic resume design. This is your shot at a guaranteed cover letter read-up—so make it a good one.
Situation Two: When Your Resume Needs Clarification
While your resume reflects the facts and stats of experience, it can’t relay everything. Sure, it can suggest your candidacy as an effective employee. But most hiring managers are aware of the gaps between the numbers: Noting that you’ve increased your business’s annual revenue by ten percent, for example, leaves a lot to guesswork. Did you, yourself, achieve this? Or were you a team contributor? You might’ve listed some impressive credentials, like awards, titles or sponsorships—but just how difficult is it to achieve these things?
This is where cover letters really shine: They let you clarify the details—and they let you justify the weight of your credentials. Hiring managers seek value, so let your value be known. Here’s a little-known secret among successful job-seekers: The best cover letters create an argument.
Not your typical argument, however. ‘Argument,’ here, simply means ‘a different perspective.’ True value comes from new company additions—whether they’re unique strategies, a unique education or even a unique take on an entire industry. If you’ve achieved your resume’s impressive stats by doing something different from most people, absolutely make a cover letter to show it off.
This approach is also mentioned by impressively established career pros. One such guru, the Editor and Chief of Slate.com, considers cover letters to be an argument for “how the set of experiences you’ve had, up to this point in your career, make you the perfect candidate for the job.”
Your resume can reveal your understanding of the job position. But a cover letter can reveal your mastery of it.
Situation Three: When You Have an Employment Gap
Haven’t worked in a while? Life is unpredictable, that’s for sure. Or, maybe you’ve pursued new opportunities beyond your industry. Have no fear: A cover letter can save the day—and a resume with wide-ranging dates of work activity.
Your resume, itself, should only be two pages—max. In fact, recent studies have found that recruiters are 2.3 times as likely to hire applicants within these boundaries. This doesn’t leave much room for work gap explanations, undoubtedly. If you’re a fresh industry worker who’s hopped between a couple of industries, this is doubly true: Two-page resumes, for mid-level positions, have an average success rate of 70 percent. For entry level positions, only one page is recommended.
Cover letters are pretty unique. They give us a chance to further explain our credentials, sure, but they also let us express positivity and proactivity. If a work gap goes unexplained, it might get chalked up to industry disinterest, a lack of dedication or even a bad experience. This should definitely be avoided, making a cover letter not only useful, but essential.
So be proactive about explaining your time off. Firstly, mention anything industry-related you’ve done during this gap. Online classes, relevant projects, honed skills and industry exploration might be too nebulous for the clear-cut, hard-fact resume—but they’re perfect cover letter mentions. Explain how you’ve kept your skills fresh, and how you’ve re-engaged your given career in unique ways.
Above all, show your hiring manager how you’ve stayed up to date with current industry trends, overhauls, or other significant details. This is perfect for highlighting your unique perspective, or ‘argument,’ as a potential employee. This effect can be so impactful, in some cases, that it can transform a gap-ridden job application into a contemplative, highly valuable one.
Situation Four: When You’re Applying for Middle Management
As for the mid-level positions mentioned above, sometimes even two pages isn’t enough. This is especially true if you’re aiming for a management position—as managerial positions require more than simple results. Hiring managers want mid-level management workers who’re great planners, charismatic leaders and tactical strategists. Your resume needs all the space it can get for fact-based results and notable credentials. Needless to say, you’ll need a cover letter to cover the rest of your bases.
The most important base, here, is one that explains your proudest projects: Industry projects involve innovation, careful planning and effective teamwork. They can also be explained, factually, while heavily implying your value as a company leader. Try to avoid any day-to-day tasks you’ve engaged, if possible, as they’ll make your cover letter seem a little too arrogant—or even frustrated.
Instead, blend these topics into any explanations about your ‘downtime’ between any working hours. Being enthusiastic is a great way to avoid seeming like a workaholic, in any event, because it’ll relay passion for your line of work. And this is one of, if not the most, important qualities to have as a mid-level management worker who’s met the position’s requirements, in the resume.
Are cover letters necessary for mid-level managers seeking new, mid-level management positions. Absolutely: They’re an invaluable space to explain your professional relocation. They can also exchange any potential, resume-based misunderstandings with a snapshot of your latest aspirations.
Situation Five: When You’re Relocating
Speaking of relocation, a cover letter is important if you’ve recently moved into the area. And it’s vital if you’re applying to a position outside your current one. A cover letter that fully explains a relocation is sometimes called a ‘relocation cover letter,’ as they’re important enough to be widely used among such job-seekers.
If you’re simply moving across town, or across a small city, it’s okay to not mention the relocation. The important thing, however, is to mention your relocation if any significant life changes have been introduced before, or because, of it. It’s best to explain this positively, however, as an effective cover letter is one that sees life changes as new opportunities.
When doing this, try to explain how meaningful the potential job position will be. Even if the job search has resulted from a relocation, it can certainly be pursued to amplify positive life changes.
If you’re concerned about your cover letter’s other contents—don’t worry: Briefly mentioning your relocation will, in most cases, be enough. If you’re seeking a mid-level or senior position that’s short on qualified candidates, this is even truer.
Relocation isn’t necessarily seen as an applicant flaw, in any event, if the applicant is willing to relocate for the position, itself. If the position is a long distance away, it’s worthwhile to spend some extra time in your explanation. An applicant willing to move such distances for a job position, more often than not, is considered to be very dedicated.
A pitfall to avoid, however, is the omission of your current address in your resume. In the past, this was a commonly suggested approach to job applications featuring relocation changes—so as to avoid any misconceptions if a resume is read prior to a cover letter. Now, however, career experts advise to avoid this approach, as today’s hiring managers are much more proactive about situations of potential identity theft.
Making the Most of Your Cover Letter
From your cover letter’s self-mission statements to any additional, career-related details, it’s one of the most essential elements of any job application. The digital world has redefined the way we strategize, create and submit these applications, but the cover letter is a time-tested-and-true part of the job-seeking world. They may not be required for every job application, but they tend to boost a resume when they’re made with care. In any industry, at every experience level and for any position, your application’s mission statement can redefine your resume entirely. So bring out the best in your next career application, and let your knowledge, industry history, motivations and aspirations shine.