In Part 1 of our series about refining your hiring process in 2022, we discussed the importance of a good employer brand for candidate attraction. However, that’s only the first step — once you attract that talent, the pressure is on to identify the top candidates from the applicant pool.
In order to accomplish this, hiring managers often turn to two elements of an application: the resume and cover letter. While it’s hard to debate the value of a good resume, the cover letter is a far more controversial part of the modern application routine. From an employer perspective, it’s not necessarily helpful in providing accurate insight about the candidate. In fact, 68% of recruiters think cover letters are unimportant.1 From an applicant perspective, it can be a time-consuming step and slow the overall job search.
If both sides dislike cover letters, then why are they used at all? First, it’s important to understand where cover letters came from and why they may or may not be necessary for talent acquisition.
A Brief History of the Cover Letter
The cover letter is believed to have existed for hundreds of years, with speculation that Leonardo da Vinci wrote the first-ever cover letter in the 1480s when he applied to work for the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza.2 In it, he described his eagerness to work for the Duke and listed his applicable skills and the ideas that he would implement if hired for the role. You can read the full letter here. Not only did his cover letter get him the job, but it also led him to be commissioned by Sforza to paint The Last Supper.
Although the subject matter of da Vinci’s cover letter may not be relevant to today’s workforce, the structure and talking points he includes are still commonly used. This similar format has been present throughout history in one form or another, and for many, it is weighed as heavily as the resume itself in determining a candidate’s worth.
Should You Require a Cover Letter?
While the cover letter worked for Leonardo da Vinci, how necessary are cover letters in 2022? Due to the unique demands of certain job roles, some hiring managers may find them to remain a necessary part of the hiring process. But for most, they’re not needed.
Cover letters are often a barrier for even talented applicants who are legitimately interested in a certain role because of the time and effort they require. Standing out in a competitive job market requires removing as many barriers as possible to allow the prospective employee to apply quickly and easily.
The best litmus test is to consider the job seeker’s perspective: if you were to find similar open roles at two different companies, would you take the time to apply to the one that requires a cover letter or one that does not?
In the absence of a cover letter, how can you measure a candidate’s likelihood of success? The most proven method is through scientifically valid personality tests. Simple to administer and easy to complete for the candidate, personality tests can make the hiring process more efficient and more effective.
By reducing the likelihood of bias and the potential for human error, personality tests make the hiring process more objective and improve the odds of making a successful hire. A well-validated personality test can give hiring managers insight as to how a candidate is likely to perform on an everyday basis — for example, how they will be likely to interact with others or how they will approach organizational and personal objectives.
Cover letters have served their purpose in the workplace for hundreds of years, offering applicants the opportunity to elaborate on their unique skill set beyond the limitations of a resume. However, in today’s fast-paced and competitive hiring landscape, more refined solutions for talent acquisition exist that yield better results, making cover letters a thing of the past.
- The Jobvite Recruiter Nation Survey. (2015). Jobvite. https://www.jobvite.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/jobvite_recruiter_nation_2015.pdf?isid=enterprisehub&ikw=enterprisehub_leadershiphub%2Fshould-you-require-a-cover-letter_textlink_https%3A%2F%2Fwww.jobvite.com%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2015%2F09%2Fjobvite_recruiter_nation_2015.pdf
- Baer, D. (2014, June 4). Here’s the Incredible Cover Letter Leonardi da Vinci Wrote in the 1480s. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/leonardo-da-vinci-cover-letter-from-1400s-2014-6