Is it time to ditch the Covering Letter?

October 11, 2016

Is it time to ditch the Covering Letter?For many years, we’ve had the same thoughts about the covering letter. You churn them out when applying for jobs that require a CV only application, sit back and, well, nothing happens.

But we thought the covering letter was supposed to be the superstar of the CV? The place where the reader is going to stop and say; “Hang on, we just have to interview this guy!”. Our experiences are, well, a little more…meh if we’re honest.

We’ve unanimously decided that the covering letter is where good writing goes to die.

Type into Google “Covering Letter” and you’ll be absolutely bewildered by the choices all offering you tips and help, how-to sheets, follow-this-and-you’re-guaranteed-a-job-guides and you know, most of them contradict each other because (and this really shouldn’t come as a surprise) no one actually knows what the magical formula to writing a good covering letter is.

What are you writing?

How often do your own covering letters (or ones that you’re reading) fall into one of these two categories?

You go with the conservative approach. The company are corporate, the management an absolute mystery to you so you plump for the safe option and use a template you’ve found online or just keep it all very safe so it stands out to no one.

You decide “to hell with it” and write a covering letter that James Corden would be proud of. Full of personality, humour and life – you think to yourself; “This is great!” and you never even get a thank you letter for applying.

So who are you writing it for?

This is where the covering letter is failing everyone – people that love writing, people that hate writing, people that love reading your writing….are you still with us? As copywriters we advocate for people to write for their audience, it’s important. You do your research, you work out who you’re speaking to and you get your tone right so it sits well with who’s going to read it.

The problem with the approaches above is that no matter how much research you do around a company, or how you tailor your approach to who you think is going to read it, the fate of your covering letter often rests in one or two people’s hands.

Imagine being told you needed to write an article for a national newspaper, but that it had to please the Queen. Unless you’re inside her head (as great as that must be) that is an (almost) impossible task. And that’s what we’re asking of people when they submit covering letters.

Hey, write us a letter that tells us a bit about you and why you should get this job. Oh, I forgot to tell you that I personally don’t like x, y and z so if you put that in I won’t give you an interview. Oh and you haven’t said this so I’m not sure you’re right for the job.

Wait a minute. Did anyone tell you that? Before you wrote that letter, and spent hours debating over whether to put that exclamation mark there or not, or do you mention that you love to tightrope walk at the weekends, did anyone actually tell you what they did and didn’t want in it? Nope.

That’s where job applications and job descriptions begin to make the CV and covering letter look like your tech-hating granny. Out of touch, out of date and seriously muddled.

Get to the detail

Job application forms, more often than not, come with a job description that’s full of helpful information for candidates; bullet points for skills required, an overview of the role and a breakdown of what they’re looking for. You get lots of nice separate sections to place your information and you’re guided through by the job description so you can keep everything on-point.

On a quick scan of current vacancies where a CV and covering letter is required, we discovered the complete opposite. At best you get a vague paragraph or two for a job description and, if you’re lucky, some bullet points of skills. All very helpful for tailoring your CV, but what about the covering letter?

Why is it that we expect people to write a super-duper covering letter but we haven’t actually told them what we want to see in it?

So in a nutshell, a covering letter that is meant to be the stand-out piece of your application ends up becoming a mind-reading exercise.

Statistics tell their own story

In Jobvite’s 2015 Recruiter Nation Survey, 63% of recruiters said that they didn’t think a covering letter was important.

WHAT?! So not only have you been tasked with creating a letter that you don’t even know what to put in it, but you now know that the majority of people aren’t really interested in reading it anyway.

At this point you might be thinking that you’d be better off writing your details on a napkin and just handing them over? You’re actually not too far from the truth, annoyingly. The same survey also highlighted that most of a recruiter’s hires came through referrals – a whopping 78% (get your napkins out). Now, maths is not our strong point but your covering letter is looking increasingly worthless (sorry to all great covering letters out there – we’d love to see one).

Wowza.

Let’s ditch the covering letter

So shall we do the poor, deflated covering letter a favour and just ditch it? Let’s put it out of its misery and stop trying to write something that has no clear target audience, no clear objectives and that people don’t even read anymore.

Call us crazy, but we think it’s got to go.

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