Resumes & Cover Letters

Are cover letters necessary in 2021?

Written by Kate Lopaze

Let’s be honest: cover letters are nobody’s favorite part of the job hunt. There’s a lot of pressure to be smart, clever, and informative in just a few brief paragraphs (but not too many). Cover letters can stress out even the most seasoned job seekers and feel like a throwback to a bygone era of fancy stationery and letter openers. These days, everything is handled digitally. So now, in 2021, do you even need to bother with a cover letter?

The answer: it depends.

Who still reads cover letters?

According to surveys done by LinkedIn and others, many recruiters, HR reps, and hiring managers still read cover letters. They may not read them for everyone who applies, but rather those who make it past a certain hurdle in the evaluation process. So you should think of your cover letter as a good sign: if someone’s reading it, they may be seriously considering you and your application package.

According to Jobvite’s 2020 Recruiter Nation survey, 27% of recruiters read cover letters and consider them in the hiring process. That may seem low, but think about this additional piece of data from the survey: that’s up 19% since 2017. So while the practice isn’t as widespread as one might hope since this is something that requires a lot of effort by job seekers, it’s happening. In job markets where every advantage counts, a cover letter can help someone make it to the next recruiting level.

So, do I need a cover letter?

You have nothing to lose by crafting a quality cover letter. While a cover letter is often not required in the digital engines that take in applications and spit out metrics on the other end, it can help build your case for why you should be hired. This is especially important if your resume has gaps or questionable spots. Your cover letter is a chance to get ahead of any questions that a potential employer might have. It’s also a way to set the tone and narrative for your resume. A reader may or may not skip right to the meat of the resume, but if they have your cover letter as well, it helps to highlight what you want them to take from your resume.

If you’re going to use a generic template for every job for which you’re applying, you probably shouldn’t bother. A recruiter’s eyes will glaze right over a blatant boilerplate letter that starts with “To whom it may concern” or “Please find attached.”  But a thoughtful, well-crafted cover letter, tailored for each job application, is a way to show qualities like attention to detail, communication skills, and personality.

How do I update my cover letter for 2021?

Your cover letter should be tailored for the specific job and company to which you’re applying. Someone going through a pile of resumes will appreciate a letter that shows thought, effort, and awareness of what the job is. Studies have shown that resumes that have a tailored, specific cover letter are more likely to get an interview. Again, it adds and extra level of care, and recruiters notice that extra touch.

You should also be mindful of keywords and the language you’re using. Given that so many resumes and application packages are submitted digitally, chances are your application is being screened for keywords to help identify qualified candidates from the rest. This does not mean your cover letter should be a robotic mess of random words related to the job. However, be sure to use specific terms from the job description to show that you bring qualifications that the company is seeking. These days, you need to satisfy the bots as well as the humans who will make qualitative decisions about your application.

A cover letter may seem outdated, but writing a solid one can really make the difference between getting an interview and having your resume languish in a pile somewhere. It may not be required for every job, but you should still consider writing one and give yourself every potential advantage you can get.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.