Do We Really Need To Write Cover Letters In 2023?

The cover letter has been a longstanding component of job applications since the 1950s, serving as a way for candidates to express their interest and qualifications for a position. However, in recent years, there has been a debate on whether cover letters are still necessary, particularly in light of the post-pandemic unemployment situation. Opinions on this matter vary, with some advocating for their use under certain conditions.

In a recent LinkedIn poll, where recruiters, hiring managers, and candidates participated, over 70% voted that cover letters are no longer essential in the shortlisting process. However, it's worth noting that there are others online who believe cover letters can still be valuable if certain criteria are met. This has left many candidates unsure about whether to include cover letters, especially if they are not explicitly requested by the employer.

Emily Meekins, CEO, and Founder of talent consultancy Workstrat, rarely reviews cover letters. She mentions that in 85% of cases, she can gather enough information from the resume and LinkedIn profile. Meekins believes that the application and interview process is already time-consuming, and candidates could save time by not writing cover letters and instead focusing on other areas of their job search. However, she also acknowledges that if she is undecided about a candidate or needs more information to make an informed decision, she may consider reviewing the cover letter to assess the candidate's writing and communication skills.

Yulia Saf, Founder, and CEO of, has hired and managed remote teams and has found that cover letters can have a significant impact on her hiring decisions. She mentioned that candidates who include persuasive cover letters often stand out during the shortlisting phase, as these letters provide insights into their passion and determination for the role.

In conclusion, the decision of whether or not to write a cover letter for a job application, even if it is not explicitly required, remains a matter of debate. While some professionals believe that cover letters are no longer necessary, others, like Yulia Saf, have found them to be influential in their hiring decisions. It may be beneficial for candidates to consider the specific circumstances and preferences of the company they are applying to when deciding whether to include a cover letter.   

Maurizio Petrione, the founder of the remote-first digital media start-up, has been hiring talent for over 15 years and highlights that from his experience, "cover letters have played an essential element in hiring decisions, even when we didn't specifically request them. Out of the hundreds of candidates we shortlisted over the past five years, about 70% included cover letters in their applications. These letters helped shed light on their motivations and gave a better insight into their soft skills - things often not immediately evident in resumes."

Cover letters are a fantastic way to explore beyond the confines of one's resume and tell a compelling narrative about your career journey, motivations and aspirations for the job, and even transferable skills, especially for those facing perceived barriers in the workplace. This makes it an excellent choice for those making a career pivot or transition.

As Thomas Codevilla, business attorney, Co-Founder, and hiring manager at SK&S Law Group points out, "A well-written cover letter allows candidates to tell a compelling narrative about their experiences and how they can uniquely contribute to our organization. On the hiring side, I know that ATS often play a role in screening applications. What many candidates might not realize is that incorporating relevant keywords from the job posting into their cover letters can significantly improve their chances of getting past this initial screening stage.

"As a recruiter, I appreciate it when candidates address their cover letters to a specific individual or mention a mutual connection within the company. It not only shows that they've done their research but also increases the likelihood that their application will catch my attention.

"A cover letter gives candidates the opportunity to address any potential red flags in their resume, such as employment gaps or career changes. When a candidate proactively explains these issues, it shows their transparency and willingness to provide context, which can positively influence my perception of their application."

Best practice when crafting your cover letter

While cover letters are a great way to demonstrate your value to a potential employer, you should always ensure that it actually delivers real value and is not a mere repetition of your resume, HR generalist Mary Pizana of personal injury law firm Herrman and Herrman cautions.

Kirsty Barden, Head of Business Development at MDS, a talent acquisition company with 37 years in the business, highlights some best practices to remember when writing up a cover letter:

Customize each cover letter

"Tailor your cover letter for each specific application and company. Address the hiring manager or recruiter by name if possible and demonstrate your knowledge of the company and the role you're applying for."

Highlight relevant experiences and skills

"Emphasise the experiences and skills from your CV that directly relate to the job description and requirements. Use specific examples to demonstrate your capabilities."

Showcase your passion

"Express genuine enthusiasm for the company and the opportunity. Explain why you are interested in the role and how it aligns with your career goals."

Keep it concise and focused

"A cover letter should be concise, typically one page. Avoid unnecessary details and maintain a clear focus on the key points you want to convey."

Be professional and error-free

"Pay close attention to grammar, spelling, and formatting. A well-written and error-free cover letter demonstrates attention to detail and professionalism."

Demonstrate cultural fit

"Highlight your alignment with the company's values and culture. Show that you are a team player and can thrive within the organization's environment."

End with a call to action

"Conclude the cover letter by expressing your interest in further discussing your qualifications and expressing gratitude for the opportunity to apply."

Executive Cleaning Services Vice President Thomas Giarraputo recommends candidates use Venn diagrams when beginning to craft their cover letter. "Telling stories from your career is an excellent way to demonstrate your skills and give hiring managers a glimpse of your demeanor and work style.

"Always refer to the position's requirements in the job description when searching for appropriate anecdotes to share. It is also beneficial to conduct additional online investigations on the company to gain a sense of its culture. Before writing your cover letter, compare your talents to the position's requirements.

"Utilizing Venn diagrams can be useful for generating ideas and determining which competencies and experiences to highlight. After creating this diagram and identifying what belongs in both circles, overlapping topics will guide and inspire the content of your cover letter."

When cover letters should not be used

On the flip side, Sam Greinetz, Recruiting Partner at Signed Talent, points out that the recruitment industry has witnessed a significant shift over the past decade, with hundreds of candidates applying for one position where there were only 10-15 a few years ago, and certain industries which rely more on hard skills, such as the tech industry, do not have the capacity for hiring managers and recruiters to read every cover letter sent through.

Greinetz recommends trying a different approach to sending in your cover letter. "Rather than a cover letter, if someone is especially interested in a role, they are better off reaching out to the recruiter or hiring manager directly either via email or on Linkedin to reiterate their excitement. That message can be similar to what a cover letter would include and will allow them to stick out in a crowded applicant pool. Show that you've done some homework, personalize it, talk about the team, product, etc., and don't be afraid to follow up after a few days if you haven't heard anything."

Anthony Allen, VP of Recruiting at Supply Chain Talent Advisors, states that while he agrees that most recruiters don't have the time to read cover letters if one is to be written, "the candidate must personalize and tailor the cover letter. A generic, one-size-fits-all cover letter is easy to spot and often disregarded. To stand out, research the company and the role, and tailor your cover letter accordingly. Mention how your skills and experiences align with the job requirements and the company's goals. By doing this, you show the hiring manager that you understand their needs and can bring specific value to the position. This level of personalization is what can make a cover letter impactful, even in situations where its importance might be diminishing."

So what does all of this mean for job seekers?

In a nutshell:

  1. When applying for a job directly to an employer, use a cover letter that is well-personalized, tells impactful career stories, conveys your motivations for the role, and speaks to why you want to work for that particular employer. Demonstrate that you understand their pain points, clients, and values and that their mission and values align with yours.
  2. Think creatively of other ways to include a cover letter approach, such as sending an email or LinkedIn InMail to the hiring manager directly.
  3. Ensure your cover letter is not a repetition of your resume.
  4. Cover letters are best used when facing barriers such as career gaps, career transitions, and lack of experience, or to increase competitive edge, especially for senior-level roles.
  5. If applying for technical roles or applying directly through recruitment agencies, consider leaving the cover letter out altogether so as not to waste your time. Also, take time to research the industry you are entering or applying for roles in, and typically review cover letters. After all, you don't want to waste your time or that of the recruiter/hiring manager.

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