Nobody Reads Cover Letters. Well, except…

There is a lot of chatter about cover letters… do you send one? Do you not?

One thing I hated in my job search was customizing resumes and cover letters for jobs I applied to.  I got down to a few versions of my resume (for different job titles), but I normally customized the cover letter quite a bit.

Sometimes it could take more than an hour to customize… do that a few times a day and you have burned through that day!

Recruiters and HR are both saying they don’t read cover letters.  With their technology, I’m not convinced they read a lot of resumes (because they use their technology, known as Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), to weed through the “bad” ones before they even spend time on the “good” ones).

So why create a cover letter?  Are cover letters dead?  Are they a waste of time and paper?

NO.  I don’t think so.

Granted, I’ve never been a recruiter, and I’ve never been in HR.

But I have been a hiring manager.  Here’s what I would do:

  • Skim over the cover letter and then check out the resume.
  • If the resume was a keeper, I’d keep it in a pile.
  • Go through the pile to find the top 3 – 5 resumes I really liked.
  • Then, go read them more in depth, and do more research on the candidate.

Best tool to do research, at that point?  THE COVER LETTER.

I would not read ALL of the cover letters, but I would read the cover letters of the people I really liked.

Feel free to listen to the naysayers and ditch your cover letter, but I say SEND IT.  It might not be instrumental in getting past the initial screening, but once you are in the short list you don’t want to look like you are incomplete…

Have a strong cover letter, and send it in with a resume!  That’s my advice.

But who am I?  Just a hiring manager…


  1. Rob Gilgan on November 30, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    I always put together a well-crafted cover letter. I don’t work for organizations that don’t read cover letters. That said, I don’t look for work often, either.

  2. Ari Herzog on November 30, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    Keep in mind you sometimes don’t have a choice. I applied to two vacancies on Harvard University’s employment website, and the process is simple, albeit archaic: 1) Press a button to upload a resume, then another button to upload a cover letter, both as Microsoft Word documents.

  3. Jason Alba on December 1, 2009 at 7:33 am

    @Rob – thank you for the comment … I agree… always, no matter what others say.

    @Ari – good point…

  4. Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter on December 1, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Hi Jason,
    I agree, DO include a cover letter!

    Love your idea that the cover letter is a repository from which the hiring manager can perform further research after having sorted through a pile of resumes.

    In some cases, the cover letter alone creates the compelling reason that a hiring decision-maker, recruiter, CEO, CFO, CTO, COO, human resources screener, person-who-knows-someone-who-knows-someone involved in the hiring process …will contact you for an interview!

    It extends the message in a more conversational tone. Just one nugget, one sentence, one turn of phrase can be the magic ‘wand’ that puts a spell on the reader, turns their head, sways them that they must speak with you.

    Like with dating, it may not be the fragrance one wears or the dress one dons or the perfect conversation one held with her beau that draws him in — it’s a combination of factors, and in dating, we generally put our best face forward, covering all the bases that may/may not attract.

    Within the job-search courtship, it’s similar: a plethora of career positioning documents and messaging (talk) points convert to valuable marketing and sales tools that should be made available to endear the hiring decision-makers to you.

    You never know which tool, strategy, talk point, conversation, etc. will pull the emotional switch that converts a disinterested reader to your raving fan. I recommend not neglecting the power of the carefully customized cover letter.

    Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter
    Master Resume Writer
    @ValueIntoWords (Twitter)

  5. Larry Boyer on December 2, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    I’ve worked in various roles with several large companies with hiring manager responsibilities are part of my responsibilities.

    I always read the cover letter since a well written cover letter conveys a lot of good information. For one, the cover letter illustrates your writing style and abilities. It conveys how persuasive you can be as well as your ability to enhance information that is in your resume. A well thought out letter connects the job position,

    Anyone who is hiring without reading cover letters is missing out on critical information. Anyone applying for a job without submitting a cover letter is also missing out on conveying information. Even if you’re filling out an online job application, many (if not most) site actually allow for a cover letter to be attached or for you to write a message in a comments field.

    Take advantage of every opportunity you can to both convey information and deomonstrate that you are willing to go beyond the bare minimum requirements.

  6. Simon CV on January 15, 2010 at 1:15 am

    As a recruiter for senior management, I often find that the the absence of a cover letter can often denote either laziness or that the job seeker just hasn’t bothered applying that much thought into their application.

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