Are cover letters dead?
August 23, 2014 6:50 AM   Subscribe

I've applied to two jobs this week (the only two) for very different companies, and in both cases, when I applied on the company website, all that was requested of me was my contact information and a copy of my resume--no cover letter.

Is it the custom these days to include a cover letter in the same file as my resume? In both cases it very clearly said "Upload your resume," not "Upload your resume and cover letter" or "Upload your application materials" or anything like that.

These are both major companies you've heard of. These are both jobs where one would be expected to submit a portfolio and demonstrate the kind of soft skills you would convey in a cover letter.

It's been about 5 years since I've done any significant job-hunting. Has it changed that much?
posted by elizeh to Work & Money (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Many big companies now use HR software systems that they contract out to deal with resumes. The upshot of this is that the HR recruiters don't deal in resumes they deal in database entries. When you send in your resume, the resume is parsed by HR software that adds you to the database as an applicant for position ###. The HR recruiter then queries that database to start winnowing down the candidates.

I believe they can, if they choose, view the resumes from which information was parsed, and presumably cover letters if they were all put in the same file. But they probably don't request cover letters because for the most part no human is actually reading these files, at least until you've passed some stages of selection.

I'm not sure how they deal with this in portfolio-style occupations, but a big company is almost surely using such software.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:09 AM on August 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

Might be! A line of reasoning I've seen is that cover letters were from the time when you printed a stack of identical resumes and sent them to a lot of potential employers. You included a cover letter that was tailored to the position.

Now, you should be tailoring your resume for each position, so the cover letter is less essential.
posted by chrchr at 7:13 AM on August 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Personally, I think the cover letter is more important in a world where your resume is sucked into a dB. But yeah, for mega corps that have automated everything nobody is going to see it, and my experience has been you aren't going to get a call anyway. I really wonder if anybody gets hired this way, or its just HR keeping busy as hiring managers work around the system to get the candidates they really want.

If you can figure out who the hiring manager is, or even the ultimate VP above everybody, I wouldn't hesitate to send a personal email with the resume to that person. I have created interviews that way. I don't think depending on HR has ever led to an interview for me.
posted by COD at 7:21 AM on August 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

I was job hunting last year and I think something from my cover letter was mentioned in each of the interviews I got, so someone was looking at it at some point.
posted by ghharr at 9:12 AM on August 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I recommend including the cover letter even if it is not specifically asked for.

• It's there if a human does want it and it will answer obvious questions that might speed up the process, as well as serve as a writing sample.
• You increase the natural density of the keywords that the HR software might pick up on.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:29 AM on August 23, 2014

Don't overthink it. Some companies/recruiters just don't care about cover letters. I personally do as a hiring manager like to read the cover letter, but some of my coworkers (especially for jobs that don't necessarily require good writing skills) don't read cover letters even if they're submitted.
posted by radioamy at 9:52 AM on August 23, 2014

I have been both an agency and an in house recruiter at global companies, there was no resume-reading software involved at any point, and we did not read cover letters except in very rare cases where we were looking to see if the candidate had proactively offered an explanation of why they wanted to make a geographic move.

That said, the companies I've worked at are not typical.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:24 AM on August 23, 2014

Really depends on industry. I never look at cover letters and no one I know does either. It's really a YMMV situation.
posted by Carillon at 10:27 AM on August 23, 2014

Perhaps it's my profession, but I don't see the resume as sufficiently flexible to cover the extra detail, positioning, keywords, and narrative thread the cover letter provides. In my current search, most of the time it is asked-for, though not required, and I always provide one.
posted by lathrop at 11:31 AM on August 23, 2014

I would have loved to include mine--I spent a lot of time on them! But at no point was I prompted to, and I didn't know if it was now the norm to just include it in the same file as my resume.

(And yes, the jobs are writing-intensive.)

I suppose I could try to reapply if their systems let me...
posted by elizeh at 12:04 PM on August 23, 2014

I would say don't reapply - makes you look either a) careless or b) like you forgot you already applied.

If it doesn't ask for a cover letter and it's one of the those where you upload you resume and then proceed to fill in text boxes, I would not include it in the file to upload the resume. I always found it strange when someone applied for a job with my company to open the attached resume and have there be a cover letter inside.

But YMMV! good luck.
posted by firei at 12:41 PM on August 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just completed the world's fasted job search. (I was out of work for 3 weeks.) For most of the jobs I applied for if there was an opportunity to add a cover letter, I did, but it was pretty perfunctory.

I DID update my resume with the keywords/phrases in the job listing. I was hired via a recruiting firm into a permanent position, but I had 7 interviews lined up when the offer was made.

So...going forward, if you feel you must, include one, but I think it's more effective to put the info directly into the resume.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:11 PM on August 23, 2014

It's more important to be talking to an employer so that the application is a formality - I see this as replacing the cover letter. The other thing is that, yes, the paper-submitted resume is rarer and so there's no need for the context-providing, accompanying letter as is the custom when mailing someone material.
posted by michaelh at 3:20 PM on August 23, 2014

I wouldn't upload a cover letter to a resume digester HR website. First, it's not what is requested. Second, it will tend to disqualify your resume for OTHER jobs, and being available for other jobs is a big part about why you want to be on BigCorp resume databases.

When emailing or snail mailing a resume to someone specific, of course you need a cover letter. Short, polite letter that expresses a bullet point or two of interest or qualification that doesn't organically fit into your resume AND conveys that you can write and spell like a sane, educated and careful person.

You should still not expect that one person with hiring influence will ever see your cover letter, because in most cases, even when you should and did send it, the resumes end up being circulated naked.
posted by MattD at 7:20 AM on August 24, 2014

Just this article today that covers how to work around the resume database dead end.
posted by COD at 9:00 AM on September 2, 2014

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