A classic cover letter mistake has long been not bothering to send one. Call it a sin of omission. I’m OK with this because, as a recruiter, I almost never read cover letters. I find the resume a meatier, more comprehensive read than most cover letters.
You can find opinions a-go-go on the necessity of cover letters. Sadly, there’s not much hard data backing up either the pro or con positions. I was curious, so I decided to look for some good research on the topic.
I found three reliable studies from the past twelve years. They indicate that it’s a good idea to write a cover letter, but the most recent study shows the cover letter losing steam with recruiters. Here’s the scoop:
Cover Letter Research Now: Omission Can Be a Cover Letter Mistake
A 2014 SHRM survey of HR professionals found that only 22% of respondents think applicants make a mistake by omitting cover letters from their job applications. That number represents a huge downshift from the 2009 and 2003 findings described below. The cover letter might be dying!
Small business HR professionals valued cover letters more than HR professionals in larger organizations.
Government HR professionals valued cover letters more than private company HR professionals.
Cover Letter Research Then: Omission was a Big Cover Letter Mistake
A 2009 study of 140 national and multi-national companies found that 56% of respondents preferred to receive a cover letter along with an applicant’s resume. The findings were independent of geography, company size, industry, and respondent’s job function.
A 2003 on-line SHRM poll with 286 respondents found that 43% of respondents rated the cover letter as “influential” in their hiring decision. Another 7% rated it as “very influential.”
It’s still a mistake to omit a cover letter because you don’t know who cares and who doesn’t, and a letter can be influential in hiring decisions (positively and negatively).
However, HR professionals across sectors appear to be losing interest in this difficult, time-sucking aspect of the job search. Given that, if you’re on the fence about applying for a job, and not having to write a cover letter would push you over, go ahead and send your resume. You have at least a 66% chance the recipient won’t mind.
Note to Recruiters
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the recruiters who don’t care about cover letters would say something like, “Please send your resume. We don’t read cover letters.” in their job postings?
Here’s the language I use:
“Please send your MS Word resume to Donna Svei, Executive Search Consultant.”
I don’t ask for a cover letter. I’m tempted to start using:
“Please send your MS Word resume (cover letter optional) to Donna Svei, Executive Search Consultant.”
I write executive resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Save time. Get hired. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (208) 721-0131.
Note: This updates a post published in April 2010.