Are Cover Letters Obsolete?


As a member of the Career Thought Leaders Consortium, I have been following and participating in an ongoing discussion of the obsolescence or continuing relevance of cover letters. The overwhelming consensus has been that they are necessary and in no way obsolete, and to pay no attention to career counselors who say they are not worth the bother because HR doesn’t read them. Of course, if you are properly pursuing your executive job search, your primary contact is not HR anyway, but that is a topic for another post.

One colleague indicated that she had recently conducted an informal survey of hiring managers regarding this question and received an overwhelming response of ABSOLUTELY YES! Do include a cover letter. Many of these hiring managers indicated that an effective cover letter can make the difference in whether a candidate is called in for an interview, particularly at executive level.

I wonder why anyone would NOT want to include a cover letter! Firstly, it is simply business courtesy to introduce yourself when you make a new business contact, as you are doing when you send your resume in application for a position. Secondly, the cover letter can be used to express things that do not lend themselves well to or may even be inappropriate for inclusion in the resume itself. Thirdly, it gives you an opportunity to reinforce the business case made in the resume. Fourthly, along with some possible tweaking to the executive resume, sending a cover letter allows you to effectively customize your presentation to the particular audience and opportunity.

So, when I am asked by my executive clients whether a cover letter is needed, my answer is always an emphatic “Yes!” The worst that can happen if you include one is that the recipient skims it or even tosses it. The worst that can happen if you do not include one is that your recipient is like me–I would be completely put off by someone who lacked the business courtesy to tell me why they were sending me their resume! One of my pet peeves and something that always gives me an initial poor impression of a potential executive resume client is to receive their resume in an e-mail, with no message and sometimes even without a subject line!