Are Cover Letters Still Essential For Every Job Application?

By Amy @BubbleJobs

Before the advent of the internet and social media, cover letters were an integral part of the job application process. Effective cover letters helped employers to learn more about you as a candidate and a person and work out whether you were a good fit for their organisation – after all, apart from your CV, they had nothing else to really go off.

Fast forward to 2013 and things look very different. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, blogs – you name it, you’ve left your digital footprint all over the web so when the time comes to apply for a new vacancy,  employers now have more information about you at their fingertips than ever before.

Our current obsession with social media means we’re now at a bit of a crossroads as far as cover letters and job applications go. Think about it; if employers have easy access to your online persona, are cover letters actually still needed or are they now a thing of the past?

Well… just like anything else in the recruitment industry, unfortunately there’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer. We’ve been discussing it in the Bubble HQ today and even we can’t agree an answer – it all seems to come down what the job is and who’s advertising the job.

We’ll take the job itself first. In our opinion, the more ‘social’ a job is, the more important a cover letter is for your application. Think about it; if you’re applying for a public-facing job (whether it’s a receptionist or social media manager), your personality and people skills are going to be pretty important so a cover letter is essential for portraying these to potential employers.

On the other hand, if an employer is looking for a more ‘technical’ employee like a PHP developer, they’re not really going to be too fussed about their people skills or how outgoing they are – they just want to know they’ve got the PHP, HTML and CSS skills needed for the role. In this instance, they can find all this information from the CV so a cover letter isn’t essential – unless you have extra information you think they should be aware of and you don’t want to put it in your cover email.

cover letterAs a general rule of thumb, the more technical a job, the less necessary a cover letter is – and vice versa. Applying for a job that sits in the middle like an SEO or PPC job? If in doubt, send in a cover letter – after all, it could push your application from the ‘no’ to the ‘yes’ pile.

Now we’ve got jobs covered, it’s time to assess who is doing the recruiting – and this is the factor that will probably influence your decision the most. Small to medium-sized businesses (Bubble included) LOVE cover letters. Why? Because they only have small teams – they want to know that anyone they take on can fit in with their existing team and it’s pretty hard to work that out from a CV alone.

Don’t believe me? Sorry but it’s true – my cover letter helped me to bag my job at Bubble and Anna’s tale of being stuck up a mountain in Canada in her cover letter definitely made her application stand out from the pack! With applications like these, your cover letter is almost as important as your CV so don’t even think about not sending one in.

OK, so we know that for the majority of direct brands and agencies, a cover letter is essential – but what about if the job is being advertised by a recruiter? Well, here’s where it gets a bit interesting. Here at Bubble, the majority of our team come from a recruitment background and they said that when they’ve recruited in the past, they’ve tended to put cover letters to one side. Why? Because they didn’t have the time to read them.

Recruiters are often hard-pressed for time and need to be able to quickly assess whether a candidate is suitable for the vacancy – and 9 times out of 10, they can do this from a CV. That’s not to say this is the rule for all recruiters (particularly if they’re pretty small and work in a tight niche), however I think it’s the case more often than not so if you notice a job is being advertised by a recruiter, I’d probably advise you not to bother with a cover letter.

See – I told you there wasn’t really a simple answer for this question! To sum up, I’d say you just need to use your common sense. If an employer harps on about how great their team is and how they’re looking for a friendly individual to make a difference to their business, I’d say a cover letter is a must, however if an ad is straight down the line – this is the job and this is what we need – I’d be less inclined to push you to send in a cover letter. At the end of the day, from the role, advert and employer you should be able to get a pretty good impression of what they’re looking for from a candidate so, if they don’t specify that they want a cover letter, it’s up to you to use your initiative.

To put it bluntly, a cover letter is probably never going to harm your chances of securing the vacancy because it shows you have taken the time out to write the cover letter in the first place so you must be committed to the job. Ultimately, it all comes down to how you feel about the role, what you think the employer would like you to do and whether you think your CV can successfully convince an employer you’re the right fit for the role or whether you need to back it up with more information in the form of a cover letter.

We’re keen to hear your thoughts on this one. Do you think cover letters are worth the effort? Job seekers, employers – let us know what you think!

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