By Michael McElroy, MS, SHRM-CP, CSC
To apply, please submit your resume, cover letter, three to five professional references, two writing samples, complete our personality assessment, upload your passport, three family photos and a recent diary entry.
*Turns on LinkedIn Easy Apply*
One of these organizations received two applicants for their open position over six months, and the other had 2,971 applicants, only three of whom appeared to have read the job description.
What we request from candidates during the application process can have a major impact on the quantity and quality of our applicant pools. Front and center in this decision is the cover letter*. Should an organization require that applicants submit a cover letter? What should go in a cover letter? Are cover letters even that useful? This is a hot debate in talent acquisition circles right now.
Before I tell you what side of this debate I fall on, I want you to be aware that I realize that 50% of the people reading this blog love cover letters and 50% of you hate them. I spend a fair amount of time on HR and recruiting message boards and other social media spaces, and there are some very strong opinions. Fortunately, my opinion is a bit softer, though no less informed.
Here’s a pro/con list that I’ve created to help us examine the issue:
So what’s the verdict???
There is no clear verdict … sorry!
According to a survey conducted by CareerBuilder, 53% of employers require candidates to submit more than just a resume when applying to a job. And a candidate-facing survey conducted by Glassdoor found that 50% of candidates don’t submit cover letters when applying to jobs, while 50% do. This is not what I would call a consensus!
But fear not, because I have a perfect compromise … application questions!
Most applicant tracking systems (ATS) now allow you to create custom questions to ask of all applicants who apply to an organization, or to a specific role. One of our clients that works heavily in the racial equity space asks three questions of all candidates who apply to roles at their organization:
These application questions are designed to be short-answer (approximately one paragraph) and are focused, removing the variance and ambiguity that can come with the cover letter. You can tie them to your organization’s core values, use them to illuminate or expand on a critical skillset or assess a candidate’s writing style.
Perhaps it’s time to consider: Is replacing the cover letter with two to three strategically-chosen short-answer questions the right choice for your organization?
If you need help improving your organization’s hiring processes and best practices, Nonprofit HR’s team of expert search consultants would love to partner with you to level up your talent acquisition game.
*Why are we still calling it a cover letter, btw? Turns out it was a term coined in the ‘50s and was no doubt intended to be printed (typewritten?) and attached to the front of your resume. I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I haven’t owned a printer since 2008 and don’t know where my closest Kinkos is. Perhaps it’s also time we update the name of this treasured document?