The arguments against sending a cover letter go something like this:
“Recruiters don’t read cover letters anymore, it seems like a waste of time, especially as it’s expected I write a tailored one for each role. Surely my CV or resume gives the recruiter enough information for them to decide if I have the right experience for the role?”
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this logic is completely wrong. There is some truth in it, but it’s important to understand exactly what the purpose of a cover letter is so that you can decide if it’s worth you making the extra effort to send one.
Traditionally, a cover letter would be physically attached to the front of a CV or resume and directly presented to the hiring company, meaning all cover letters would automatically be seen by the person receiving them, before the CV was even read. And, because companies used to receive far fewer applications, each application would be reviewed more thoroughly.
Fast forward a few decades and the average role attracts hundreds or thousands of applications. These either land in a recruiter’s inbox or into an Applicant Tracking System. The cover letter is typically included as an additional attachment and the person sorting through the applications must decide whether to open that attachment and view its contents. Given that most initial determinations are made in 7 seconds, you can imagine that opening a cover letter would add a significant amount of time to this process.
Therefore, most recruiters will read the CV first and then decide whether to read the cover letter. The cover letter’s purpose has essentially changed.
Think of it like this:
The cover letter is no longer an introduction to your CV or application. It is now your final chance to persuade an undecided recruiter that they should shortlist you for the role.
Cover letters don’t get read when a recruiter can clearly see from your CV that you are not a good fit. They also don’t make much difference if a recruiter has already decided to shortlist you based on your CV.
But, they can truly make or break an application in those instances where you are almost there, but not quite.
Wouldn’t you want to do everything you could to push your application over the edge from a ‘no’ to a ‘yes’?
Taking the time to write a good cover letter can do just that. But, it’s important that you keep that aim in mind and make the cover letter worth it. It needs to serve that purpose. It can’t just be a generic letter to introduce yourself, it needs to be a convincing sales pitch.