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Cover letters: dead or alive?

Byline: Joyce Lain Kennedy

Q: Hoping to change jobs soon, I recently read that cover letters are yesterday and to forget about them. True or false? -- V.S.

A: We've heard about the demise of cover letters for years. Opinions vary. But this time it's probably true for a portion of job seekers. That's the view of influential recruiting consultant Mark Mehler. With Gerry Crispin, Mehler operates CareerXRoads, a top management consultancy, and regularly interacts with the nation's key employers.

Employer size matters

Here's Mehler's key advice:

The larger the company, the more it becomes automated and robotic.

Forget about a cover letter when applying to midsize and big companies (500 or more employees).

Send a cover letter when applying to companies below midsize.

cover letters are dated

The two chief reasons cover letters are exiting the job hunting stage are:

1. Cover letters are replaced by automation. More sophisticated technology is available, specifically chiefly applicant tracking systems (ATS).

2. Cover letters are a time suck. Less reading time is now required by super busy recruiters.

As Mehler explains, "ATS are electronic tools used by recruiters and hiring managers to process job applications and to manage the hiring process.

"ATS are typically set up to search for keywords (words or phrases employers use to identify the right candidates) in resumes and applications.

"ATS can scan search cover letters if they are uploaded to the target company's system. A job seeker must apply for a specific position when sending in a resume, adding his or her expected or last salary, as well as willingness to relocate, on the application form.

"From a recruiter's standpoint, what is the benefit of the cover letter? None. That's why cover letters are dead as a door nail at large corporations.''

Who reads them?

Engineering recruiter Ambra Benjamin makes an interesting point: "Most of the time we (recruiters) don't even open the attachment or give cover letters a cursory glance. It's such a waste of time. Many companies have stopped asking for them altogether.

"But I'll tell you who does read cover letters: A hiring manager -- especially a hiring manager at a small company with lower hiring volume (like a small nonprofit) -- is more likely to read a cover letter than a hiring manager at companies like Amazon or KPMG.''

Cheering news

Points to remember if you are planning to use a cover letter when hunting for a job:

Resumes are about skills. A cover letter is an opportunity for a job seeker to highlight a desire to work for a company.

Cover letters allow job seekers to make their case to an employer about which two or three things they most want to get across when applying.

Job openings that require a high level of verbal and written skills need the "show-me example'' that a cover letter offers. In the document-driven legal profession, for instance, employers zoom in on writing style.

In smaller companies, a cover letter offers an opening to follow up with a phone call to confirm the candidate's resume has been received. Candidates can contact the company's receptionist or HR team and ask.

When in doubt about whether to send a cover letter with your resume, call the employer's human resources department and ask: "Do your recruiters and hiring managers read cover letters?''

Tip: If you want to send a cover letter with your resume, make it worth reading. Tune up by checking out "31 Attention-Grabbing Cover Letter Examples'' at

Last words

Mehler says, "The cover letter has become, for many job seekers, like our appendix, a useless recruiting remnant of our evolutionary past.''

As the author of several editions of a major cover letters book, I get where Mehler's coming from: He's dead right.
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Title Annotation:Business
Author:Kennedy, Joyce Lain
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:May 3, 2015
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