One of the classic cover letter mistakes has long been not bothering to send one. Call it a sin of omission.
I’m OK with this because, as a recruiter, I rarely read cover letters. I found 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 proper research on the topic.
I found three reliable studies from the past twelve years, the most recent being a 2014 SHRM effort.
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 and studies since I wrote the original version of this post. The most recent was a look at cover letter requirements in tech industry job postings published by The Ladders in 2019.
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? I think many people automatically write, “Send your resume and cover letter to…” without thinking about what they’re demanding.
I didn’t read cover most cover letters, so I didn’t ask for them. Here’s the language I used: “Please send your MS Word .doc resume to Donna Svei, Executive Search Consultant.”
I wish I had said: “Please send your MS Word .doc resume (cover letter 100% optional) to Donna Svei, Executive Search Consultant.”
Photo Courtesy of Norwood Fleet
Updated June 2019
© 2015 – 2019, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.
Donna Svei, an executive resume writer and former C-level executive, retained search consultant, and CPA, writes all of AvidCareerist’s posts. She has written for and been quoted by leading business, general, and career media outlets, including Forbes, Mashable, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Lifehacker, Ask.com, Social Media Today, IT World, SmartBrief, Payscale, Business News Daily, and the Muse. Let her background and experience inform your job search strategy and decision making.