When To Write A Cover Letter (Hint: Never)

Posted November 29, 2010 - By | 14 Comments

This is just a short post. I am writing it because I’ve seen one too many blog articles lately recommending an outdated and obsolete method of differentiation required of you in the job search – the need to write the Cover Letter.
I’ll get to the point…..don’t bother. Here’s why:

1. It won’t get opened.

2. mail 300x223 When To Write A Cover Letter (Hint: Never)

We are at total media saturation already. Find me one HR Manager, Recruiter or Hiring Manager that has the time to read two candidate documents in a single email, and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t know how to prioritise and in all probability will soon be looking for a job himself. The chances of getting your email opened is already low; it follows that your chances of getting your CV read is likely to be even lower. What chance the extraneous cover letter?

2. It’s redundant

3. redundant425 300x199 When To Write A Cover Letter (Hint: Never)

Email already does the job. What, you are planning on sending a beautifully crafted cover letter with it’s Dear Marjorie / Yours Sincerely format, and NOT also address your email in the same way? Come on now. It’s repetition – there’s nothing you put in a Cover Letter that you can’t put into the email you’re sending it in. The Cover Letter became an anachronism the moment we all ‘got it’ with email – something like 15 years ago.

3. It’s poor branding

4 crazy grandma 2 198x300 When To Write A Cover Letter (Hint: Never)

maybe not this grandma...

Who writes letters any more? That’s right: utility companies, lawyers, Her Majesty’s Government, and maybe your Grandma on your birthday. Writing a Cover Letter in the job search sets you out in a way you probably didn’t expect and probably don’t intend – old fashioned, quaint, probably very nice …..and unemployable.

Cover Letters are not inherently bad

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Now let me be clear: Cover Letters are not inherently bad. It’s just a waste of your time.  You’re polishing the leather on the steering wheel, when you need to be putting petrol in the tank. You can do much better with your time by spending it on doing almost anything else (social media marketing, networking, calling people, walking around) than this.

The Caveat

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There is only one occasion when a Cover Letter is appropriate; when it is explicitly solicited by an organisation in an advertisement. If there is a line in the advert which says “to apply, send in your Curriculum Vitae along with a Cover Letter explaining your interest in this opportunity”, then by all means, go ahead, write the cover letter and apply. In fact, if you’re going to do that, you might as well go the Full Monty, and print it out and post it.

Any defenders of Cover Letter writing out there? Let’s hear from you!

Published under : Social Recruiting | Tagged with : ,


  • Sujin November 30, 2010

    I am pro cover letter because they can highlight accomplishments that don’t show up in the resume.

    However, I NEVER attach a cover letter (or a resume, for that matter) unless someone explicitly requests it, and I never attach them as .doc files unless they request it. If you make the cover letter and resume your email, HR department members will (usually) at least skim it!

  • Hung November 30, 2010

    Thanks Sujin,

    Interesting to hear from a pro writer. I’ve read recently that Cover Letters should be presented ‘in-line’ within the email, rather than as an attachment that needs to be opened. This is in alignment with consensus thinking on email marketing – don’t force the reader to open stuff!

    If this is indeed the case, then the Cover Letter and the email will lose it’s distinction, and the concept of creating a letter will lose its utility.

    BTW. I have similar views on the future of the CV!

    Thanks for your contribution – much appreciated.

    Best wishes


  • Julie Walraven | Resume Services December 02, 2010

    Hi Hung, I understand what you are saying and even why you are saying it but I disagree. There are ways to transform that archaic paper or even e-mail attachment cover letter into e-mail body which makes the cover letter just as valuable. And good reasons to do that.

    You have networked your way into a position and need to make the connection…
    You want to explain how you fit the position exactly…
    and more… I guess I now have another post to write but thank you for a thought-provoking post.

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  • Hung December 03, 2010

    Hey Julie,

    Thanks for your reply – yeah, most people do seem to disagree!

    I guess it’s important to be clear on the semantics – the term ‘Cover Letter’ is most commonly understood to be a separable attachment – a second document after the CV – in the email. My argument is simply that you cannot send two attachments on an email and not write a note inline in the email explaining why. It’s just logical progression to say that this begs the question why a second document is needed at all. So yes, I agree – we need to have an introduction / explanation – but we don’t need to do it with an extraneous document, for the 3 reasons I outlined.

    Thanks for your comment – honoured to have you on here.

    Best wishes


  • Mitch Sullivan May 09, 2012

    I agree. Cover letters are a waste of time.

    The energy spent trying to convince the reader that you can do the job should instead be spent adapting the CV content.

    That’s the document where they need to see the evidence of suitability – if only because the CV is broken down into easy to read categories.

    Most cover letters that don’t have an accompanying credible CV just look like begging letters.

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  • Rory May 10, 2012

    Ok, an attached document won’t be read, but using the email as a cover letter still makes sense. And for more than an introduction.

    I’d argue that the hiring manager who puts efficiency over more thoughtful ways of weeding out candidates will be out of a job.

    Let me add that, yes, spending time networking and adapting your resume to the job requirements is of course important.

    But… here’s my case for cover letters: they are not objective statements, or a litany of adjectives. They are one paragraph introducing where you are at the moment and what you’re doing, one paragraph stating one or two of the most relevant accomplishments in your career, and one paragraph on why these accomplishments prove you’re a good fit for the role.

    Moreover: it should be really easy to read that this is what is going on in the letter. “I am doing x; I have done this great y thing; I will be able to do z for you because”.

    The point here isn’t so much the worth of your achievements. That can be judged on the resume itself. The point here is to show you have the capacity to communicate clearly and succinctly (and that you’re not just mass-mailing everyone who’ll take your resume, but that you understand why you’re a good fit for this particular role). Just like the resume itself, it’s a great way to weed good candidates from the bad ones – the ones who know how to communicate themselves well from the ones who don’t.

  • Moe Rubenzahl May 10, 2012

    As a hiring manager, I will say this is wrong, wrong, wrong. Unfounded opinions with no evidence to back it up. And insulting: “Find me one HR Manager, Recruiter or Hiring Manager that has the time to read two candidate documents in a single email, and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t know how to prioritise…”

    A well-crafted cover letter does some things a resume can’t do well. One is show that you actually read and understand the job description (as opposed to the dozens of careless slobs who will send their resumes that more or less maybe kinda sorta match).

    The second is that it gives you a great opportunity to tell me why you are a good match.

    Third, it makes you different. And it gives you the chance to show that you communicate well.

    When I say “well crafted,” I mean short. Very short. Two paragraphs. It takes a couple of minutes to write.

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  • David Kovsky May 11, 2012

    I think the title of this article is unfortunate. I hope people will ignore its advice or read further to see what you’re really saying.

    When I get a resume with no explanation of why someone wants to work with us, I almost always pass on it immediately. I do prefer that the “cover letter” be the body of the email, not a separate attachment. But that’s trivial. The important thing is knowing the applicant is genuinely interested in working with us and not just spamming out resumes.

  • Olga May 11, 2012

    I would modify with: never send form cover letter. If you have something interesting to say, say it quickly in a few sentences. Also, I agree, send it via email text not as a .doc.

    Since I hire a lot of people for my business, I tend to ask my admin to skim most applications, and then I skim those that meet my basic criteria. If something catches my eye, a well written cover letter will get read and most likely will end up in a interview pile. A form letter gets the application the reject pile.

    I don’t know other industries, but in my small business we get more than 50 resumes per posting for a technical job. We just have to make fairly arbitrary choices to narrow the selection, and a cover letter can affect this either very positively or be very detrimental.

  • Richard May 14, 2012

    I can’t agree with your post.

    I recently was searching for a new job and i found out, during an interview, that at least 4 people read my cover letter.

    It was part of the reason they hired me for the job.

    I a cover letter you can show your real reason why you want the job, why you can fill up the spot, why you are the buy / girl for that position.

    A letter is static, a letter is a letter. Nothing “funny” you can do with a letter. A resume is never static. It’s always different from applicant to applicant. That’s why it’s harder to interpretate because of these differences.

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