Do I Have to Write a Cover Letter? Many Job Seekers Just Say No

To Whom It May Concern: Job applicants are putting a hard stop to those dreaded cover letters.

Many hiring managers say a sharp cover letter remains one of the best ways to make the case for why you are the right person for the job. Yet many job seekers say the self-promoting exercise is too torturous and time-consuming to be worth the effort for a less-than-dream role. It’s also just plain insulting, they argue, since it’s often an algorithm, not a human, that screens and sorts the applications.

Now, as employers struggle to fill millions of openings, job seekers are using their leverage to say no to what, until recently, was a must for landing a decent position.

“People are fundamentally fed up with having to do so much to get a job,” said Gianni LaTange, a 27-year-old in New York who works in tech. Ms. LaTange calls cover letters an antiquated hiring practice and no longer applies to jobs that require them.



Photo Illustration:

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To get her current role, she instead contacted employees at companies she wanted to work at over LinkedIn. One employee, after a brief conversation, connected her with a recruiter, and she ultimately got an offer without writing a letter, she said.

Some job seekers say writing cover letters is a job itself, and one that yields little reward for the effort. Before Devin Miller’s most recent job, he wrote about 10 cover letters to companies he wanted to work for. Each was different, and he wanted to signal that he knew what the work would entail, he said. He heard back from none. To get his current role, he responded to a recruiter who had reached out to him and asked just for a résumé, the 33-year-old Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Miller briefly looked for a new information-technology job in November because he was moving to Boston. This time, though, he said he applied only for openings that didn’t require a cover letter—and got several interviews and an offer.

“It just doesn’t align with my or my peers’ current interests in how they want to proceed with their career,” said Mr. Miller, who, in the end, opted to stay with his existing team and work remotely.

Behind all of the cover-letter hate lurks a major disconnect between job seekers and the employers trying to hire them. A recent ResumeLab survey of 200 hiring managers and recruiters found 83% said cover letters were important to deciding whom to hire, especially when it came to understanding why the applicant wanted the job or explaining a career switch or break. Nearly three-quarters said they expected a cover letter even if it wasn’t explicitly asked for.



Photo Illustration:

DAISY KORPICS/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, ISTOCK

“If you don’t take the time to explain yourself, they’re not going to consider you,” said Jill Tipograph, co-founder of Early Stage Careers, a career-coaching company for college students and 20-somethings. Early-career applicants especially need cover letters to differentiate themselves, she said. It’s about “laying out the facts and the foundation of what you’re bringing to the table,” she said.

Yet only 38% of candidates attach cover letters to their applications even when it is requested, according to ResumeLab, which provides advice and online templates for building résumés and cover letters.

Kevin Grossman, president of the Talent Board, a nonprofit hiring and recruiting research group, said that many of the employers his organization works with no longer look at cover letters, in part because of automated application-screening tools. The exception, he said, is when hiring volume is smaller and recruiters have the time.

Another reason cover letters often fail to impress: “Most of them are extremely generic,” said

Keith Wolf,

managing director of recruiting firm Murray Resources, who advises job seekers to tailor them to the specific job opening.

Spending even a few minutes dashing off an enthusiastic message can reveal a person’s strengths and motivation in ways a résumé often can’t, said Sherrod DeGrippo, a vice president at a security-software company whose division hires about 10 employees each quarter.

“Don’t agonize over it—it’s not a make-or-break,” she said. “It’s a help, it’s a bonus.”

Hadassah Williams, 30, who works in administration, has used a similar strategy. She started writing more casual notes instead of formal letters when a job listing indicates cover letters—which she hates writing—are optional. They take about 40 minutes to write and can be customized to the role she is applying for, she said.

She said she has sometimes included these blurbs in the cover-letter field of applications or sent them directly to recruiters on LinkedIn.

Julie Fugett’s views on cover letters have evolved over her career. As a chief information security officer in higher education, she used them to evaluate candidates’ attention to detail and communication skills.

But when she recently applied for a vice president role at a cybersecurity firm, Ms. Fugett decided not to submit one. She had seen tech-industry pushback to the practice on social media, and she didn’t want to appear out of touch.

She got the job—and was delighted she could skip the cover letter. She has since wondered whether cover letters can invite bias against talented candidates who, say, speak English as a second language.

“I have yet to meet a single person, including myself, that enjoys writing a cover letter,” Ms. Fugett said. “I’ve still written plenty of them, but it’s always a little painful.”

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