By Stephanie Hammerwold
Whenever I have a friend who is in the middle of applying for jobs, I hear the inevitable grumbling about cover letters. I don’t blame them—whenever I have done a job search I find myself complaining about such things. Studies show that the average time that a recruiter spends on a resume is a measly six seconds. With such a small amount of time spent on a resume, is the cover letter getting any attention? After over a decade in HR, many years of which included reviewing applications, I think it is time to bid farewell to the cover letter.
What Recruiters & Hiring Managers Look at in Applications
Filling out an application, creating a resume and writing a cover letter can be very time consuming. When a piece of paper or information on a screen must fill in for making a good first impression, the stakes are high, which can be a stressful situation for even the most seasoned professional. The questions I hear most often are, “What does a potential employer want to see?” and “What should I include on my resume?”
I must admit that I am not surprised by the six-second statistic. When I screened applications and resume, I always start with a quick scan. I was most interested in seeing what someone’s work history was and if it was relevant to the job. If there was enough there to pique my interest, I would spend much more time on the resume and read it in detail before making a decision on scheduling an interview. You may have noticed here that I am talking about the resume and not the cover letter. That’s because the cover letter was often the last thing I read.
The reason for this is simple: there is very little information in a cover letter that cannot be gleaned from a good resume. This is my biggest argument for ditching the cover letter. Conventional wisdom on cover letters was that the letter should point a recruiter or hiring manager toward the highlights of your resume. But if your resume is well organized, you should not need directions in your cover letter, right?
Changing the Application Process
Employers, it is time that we all agree to stop asking for cover letters. Let’s let resumes and job applications speak for themselves. While we are on the subject of unnecessary steps in the application process, many companies seem to ask candidates to jump through hoops to apply for a job. This is a good reminder for employees to review their process and to determine which steps are unnecessary.
Applying for employment can feel like a full-time job itself. Many applications ask for a cover letter and include pre-employment questions. Perhaps it is time to remove those things from the first stage of the application process. Consider starting off with a basic application that asks for just enough information to help decide if a candidate is worth pursuing. If they are, then ask them to provide additional information. This saves an applicant from wasting time completing unnecessary application materials and keeps employers from having to read through excessive text. When reviewing your application process, ask yourself if the information you are soliciting is necessary to make an initial decision on a candidate. If it is not, remove it from the application.
If there are additional questions you want to ask beyond work history and experience, consider moving them later in the process so that only candidates who are moving on to the phone screen or interview have to provide additional information. This helps to focus your screening on only the relevant information.
Some Final Advice to Job Seekers
Job seekers reading this may be tempted to stop sending in cover letters, but do not abandon them so quickly. Make sure to read all the instructions an employer provides before applying. The application process is not a good place to stage a cover letter protest. If a potential employer requires a cover letter, draft something concise that highlights some of your accomplishments and explains in a few sentences why you are the ideal candidate for the job. If you do end up getting hired and, better yet, get hired into a supervisory position or something in HR, spend some time making the case for getting rid of the cover letter once you have put in some time at your new company.