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, the most recent being a 2014 SHRM study.
SHRM Study — 2014
The 2014 SHRM survey of HR professionals found:
1. 22% of respondents think applicants make a mistake by omitting cover letters from their job applications.
2. 33% of respondents in organizations with one to 499 employees want to see a cover letter.
3. 17% of respondents in organizations 500 or more employees want to see a cover letter.
Beyond size, the participants’ organization type mattered:
1. 20% of private sector respondents want to see a cover letter.
2. 34% of government respondents want to see a cover letter.
I’ve noticed reports of new surveys since I wrote the original version of this post. The overall finding of the 2014 SHRM study appears to be holding steady.
It’s still a mistake to omit a cover letter because you can’t be sure who cares and who doesn’t, and a letter can be influential in hiring decisions (positively and negatively).
However, most HR professionals appear to be losing interest in cover letters.
Given that, if you’re on the fence about applying for a job, and not writing a cover letter would push you over, send your resume. You have at least a 66% chance the recipient won’t mind.
Note to Recruiters
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if recruiters who don’t care about cover letters would say so?
Here’s the language I use when I recruit: “Please send your MS Word resume to Donna Svei, Executive Search Consultant.”
I think I’ll shift to this: “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.
Photo Courtesy of Norwood Fleet
Updated June 2017
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