How should you write a cover letter in 2024? Does anybody even read them? Have recruiters heard about ChatGPT? We discuss all these questions and show best practices, examples, and step-by-step techniques to write cover letters that will be relevant as long as humans read them.
Table of Content
- Understanding the dislike for cover letters
- How do recruiters and hiring managers handle cover letters?
- Write a cover letter that is short and sweet
- Cover letter examples: The impact of brevity
- Aligning your aspirations with the company’s goals
- Standing out, not just fitting in
- Cover letter tip: Begin with a bang
- The future of cover letters in light of ChatGPT
Understanding the dislike for cover letters
Job seekers never had a lot of love for cover letters, but it seems that in 2024, cover letters have fallen out of favor among job seekers and recruiters alike. Many job seekers view them as outdated, while recruiters receive repetitive cover letter templates that are simply uninformative. The situation has only worsened with AI cover letter builder that produces generic cover letters in large quantities, further damaging their reputation.
So, who needs cover letters in 2024?
When is a cover letter actually necessary?
Some jobs require that you submit a cover letter along with your resume. For some job postings, it is optional. In almost all cases (except the ones below), if a cover letter is not required and you have a strong fit for the job, you can probably skip the cover letter.
So when should you still write your cover letter? In these cases:
- It’s a job application requirement
- Your resume might be misinterpreted: A cover letter can help explain potential concerns about your fit for the position. You might be the perfect candidate, but you have a large unexplained gap in your work history, or you recently changed your career path, or it looks like you’re jumping between jobs where, in reality, it was bad luck. Resumes might not be the best place to explain these concerns, but cover letters are.
- Your fit for the job is much greater than your skills and experience: It might be that the company is solving a problem you’ve been dealing with for years, or it is a lifelong hobby or part of your volunteering. You can mention it in your resume, but you can make it shine in your cover letter.
In these last two scenarios, a well-crafted cover letter can significantly sway the recruiter’s decision.
A cover letter is your chance to explain the unexplainable in your resume.
How do recruiters and hiring managers handle cover letters?
Recruiters are always on a tight schedule, making it a challenge to thoroughly review every application that lands on their desks. Data shows that, on average, a recruiter spends mere seconds on each application during the first pass.
Given the time constraints, cover letters often take a backseat in the initial application review process. They are typically glanced at, if at all, only after the resume has made a positive impression. If your resume passes the initial screening, your cover letter might be read by the hiring manager or recruiter, especially if there are concerns about your fit (such as the examples above).
A hiring manager or recruiter who reads your cover letter wants to learn about you as a person and whether your interest in the position is genuine, trying to gauge how well you align with the company’s culture and goals.
Hence, if you include a cover letter, make sure it’s well-crafted and complements your resume instead of merely repeating what’s already stated.
Write a cover letter that is short and sweet
Amidst the swarm of applications, a short, well-crafted cover letter can convince the recruiter or hiring manager to invest the time to read it. Here’s how you can trim the fat and get to the crux.
Your resume lists your achievements, and your cover letter should narrate your story. Don’t regurgitate your resume facts. Instead, offer a glimpse into your aspirations and what excites you about the potential role and company. Highlight a project, experience, or achievement briefly if it sheds light on how your personality aligns well with the job role.
Past vs future
A resume focuses on your past, while your cover letter should lay out the future. After tailoring your resume skills, summary and past experiences to the specific position, use the cover letter to express what you aim to achieve and how it resonates with the company’s ethos.
Keeping it concise
A cover letter is not an autobiography. Aim for a half-page business letter, not more. In 4-5 paragraphs, connect the dots between who you are in the present, the job role and company, and your future aspirations. Every sentence should add value and propel your narrative forward. We provide a step-by-step guide in the next sections.
Address the hiring manager by name and tailor your cover letter to the specific job and company. Show that you have done your homework by mentioning something unique about the company that draws you to it.
Cover letter examples: The impact of brevity
Consider two examples: The first candidate’s cover letter is a one-page rehash of his resume. The second candidate wrote a crisp half-page letter expressing genuine enthusiasm for the role and aligning her career aspirations with the company’s goals. Who do you think made a lasting impression? Who got the hiring manager’s attention?
In the next section, we’ll delve into aligning your career aspirations with the company’s goals, a crucial aspect that can significantly elevate your cover letter from the mundane to the memorable.
Aligning your aspirations with the company’s goals
Aligning your aspirations with the potential employer’s goals is crucial in crafting a meaningful cover letter. Start by thoroughly reading the job description to understand what the company seeks in a candidate.
Hints in the job description
The job description is a treasure trove of information that many people skip. For the purpose of writing the cover letter, focus on the sections that elaborate on the company’s and team’s purpose, current objectives, and values. These are the least examined sections in the job description:
- About the company / Our mission
- About the team
- Job responsibilities
Connecting your goals
While reading through these sections, reflect on how your professional goals intertwine with the company’s mission. Does the company’s product solve a problem you’re passionate about? Do they serve an audience or cause for which you have a special connection? Or perhaps, the sector it operates in excites you? The deepest connection that showcases an interest beyond just the role should be the anchor of your cover letter.
If you can’t find any connection
Our honest opinion: If you don’t really connect to the company’s goals, values, sector, or customer market segment, seriously reevaluate whether you want to apply for the job, even if the compensation is reasonable. According to Gallop, only 15% of worldwide full-time employees are engaged at their workplace. It is significantly better in the U.S. at around 30%. Steer your career to opportunities with which you’d have a deeper connection, where you will be able to stand out as a candidate. More importantly, you’d be able to excel in doing your job, get promoted faster, and accelerate your career path.
Standing out, not just fitting in
The generic cover letter trap
Many cover letters fall into the trap of blandness, often regurgitating what’s already on the resume. They lack a personal touch, making them seem robotic and disengaging. The generic phrases like “I found your job listing on…” only add to the monotony.
Unfortunately, most of the cover letter tips, examples, and templates out there lead you in the wrong direction: They focus on who to address your letter to, the cover letter format, how to start your cover letter, how to end your cover letter, whether to send the letter as a pdf… These minutiae will not help you craft a great cover letter that grabs attention. It will lead you to these generic undifferentiated letters that are unbearable to read. Seriously, try to read 10 of them, and you’ll get to understand why so many recruiters shun cover letters.
If you already spend time writing a cover letter, make it worth your time and the reader’s time.
Highlight your unique connection
Using the connection you’ve discovered above, focus the body of the letter on the anchor that deeply connects you to the job. (see the example above). Describe how this anchor is important for you and then connect it to other elements about the job, team, and company. Be specific about what you connect to. Weave in one or two key experiences or achievements that explain how your career path aligns with that anchor and subtly imply that this is an extraordinary match. Highlighting these connections not only shows your keen interest but also your understanding of the job and company culture.
Cover letter tip: Begin with a bang
Crafting a compelling start
A strong start is your first (and often also the last) chance to grab the recruiter’s attention. In a sea of generic cover letters, an engaging opening can set you apart. It’s not just about stating your name and the job you’re applying for, but igniting interest.
Tip: A strong cover letter should start with a fact or a brief story that describes the anchor that connects you to the company or the role.
Linking a few past experiences to job requirements
Your cover letter should not only express your enthusiasm but also subtly demonstrate that you are ready to hit the ground running. Immediately after establishing the anchor, tie your past accomplishments to the job’s requirements, showing a clear line between what you’ve done and what you’re poised to do.
- Use specific examples that connect well with your anchor to show how your past experiences make you a suitable candidate (see the cover letter opening example above).
- One or two examples are enough.
- Use a STAR method structure to write about previous work experience in order to make them engaging and informative.
This section nudges you to initiate a professional conversation with a bang, making the recruiter eager to meet you. Through a powerful start and a bridge between your past successes and the job at hand, you set a promising premise for what could be a fruitful collaboration.
The future of cover letters in light of ChatGPT
As technology advances, so do methods of recruitment and job seeking. A notable player in this evolution is AI, with tools like ChatGPT reshaping how we approach cover letters. Let’s explore this further.
Impact of AI tools
AI tools have become a double-edged sword. On one hand, they offer quick, standardized cover letters, saving time for the job seeker. With a single prompt, they can churn out well-written content, even with some tailoring to the job description. These are great news for people who feel that their writing limits their ability to come across as strong candidates (e.g., Immigrants).
Yet as we discussed above, writing a traditional cover letter doesn’t help you stand out. Moreover, it won’t take long before recruiters and hiring managers learn to ignore these types of cover letters completely.
What makes a good cover letter in the AI Age?
With virtually free access to AI writing tools, cover letters will not be evaluated anymore by the quality of their writing. They won’t be evaluated by the quality of skills, experience, and achievements because the resume, particularly its summary, is more than enough for that purpose. The role of the cover letter is to shed light on a narrative about the outstanding connection of a particular candidate to a company. These kinds of stories will be even more appreciated by recruiters and hiring managers as they decide who to shortlist for an interview. As AI tools become commonplace, the value of a unique human story shines brighter than ever in helping you stand out in the crowd.