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Is the Cover Letter Finished, or Just Evolving?

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Along with mayonnaise, department store shopping, and phone calls, there are claims that modern life has also killed job application cover letters. As specialist recruiters for sales and marketing professionals, we’re not so sure. According to surveys across the employment spectrum, 74 percent of recruiters say cover letters aren’t important and 46 percent of job seekers did not submit one with their most recent application. Sometimes a recruiter or hiring manager gives other instructions, like filling out a form, sending an email to answer specific questions, or just linking to your LinkedIn profile. Some job application forms won’t even accept a cover letter.
 
However, while the cover letter may be fading, its purpose as a supplement to your resume is still important. The question is whether the traditional cover letter is still the best way to serve that purpose.

What marketing and sales cover letters do

Cover letters are the start of your relationship with the hiring manager and an opportunity to show your interest in the company and its work. Managers know that interested employees are engaged and high-performing, so this is your first chance to demonstrate how you would fit in. You are your own advocate!
 
As a sales and marketing professional, you write persuasive content every day. This is a great way for you to show how you articulate pain points and solutions and how you sell yourself. Recruiters often look for keywords and phrases that demonstrate you know the work.
 
A cover letter also gives you an opportunity to tell the stories behind the achievements listed in your resume. This is even true for sales cover letters, which may come as a surprise to those who think sales qualifications are expressed through numbers alone. For a hiring manager, these stories make your experience come to life and help them figure out what makes you tick.

Modern cover letter alternatives for a new generation of jobs

So it’s clear that cover letters did a lot of good but your grandpa’s cover letter doesn’t cut it anymore. If your template was written in the 1980s or includes phrases like “as you can see in my resume” or worse, “dear sir/madam,” it’s time to update. Throw out that pink paper! There are a few alternatives that will tackle the good things cover letters do without forcing you into an old-fashioned format. Think of these as modern cover letters for today’s job application process.
 
1. Answer the requirements of the job description. It may seem obvious but recruiters say many candidates find this harder than you’d think. One hiring manager wrote in Fast Company that most candidates write “I am skilled at X” when they should be using anecdotes or examples of how they used that skill in their work.
 
2. Many of those sounding the death knell for cover letters advocate for a “pain letter” instead. This format puts the candidate in the shoes of the hiring manager and explains how employing them would solve some of their problems. They are potentially awkward if your research is not spot-on, and many managers have said they can read like spam but pain letters do cut through the static and get the manager’s attention.
 
3. Don’t forget, you’re marketing your abilities as a sales and marketing professional, so consider your ability to show rather than tell. Graphic designer Robby Leonardi made waves by reimagining his resume and cover letter as a playable video game. You have extensive marketing skills – it’s what you do! – so why not put them to work selling yourself to an employer?

How to tailor your cover letter without the pain of rewriting

You don’t have to write a completely new cover letter for every job but you should tailor one on a theme.
 
If what you do is specialized and your search field is limited to one industry, you may only have one type of cover letter that speaks to your experience, interest, and aptitude in that vertical. If you’re several years into your career, however, it’s likely you will have two or three different cover letters that speak to different parts of your skillset. For example, if you’re a marketing generalist applying for specialist roles, you might have one cover letter for content roles and another for product marketing.
 
One day, one of the cover letter alternatives may become a common way to tell your employment story, start a relationship with the hiring manager, market yourself, and speak to your experience. Until then, the cover letter still reigns supreme. So get writing!