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Sloan the DEV Moderator
Sloan the DEV Moderator

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Are cover letters worth the time?

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I've just re-entered the job market after about 3 years at one company. Just wondering if putting all my energy into writing different cover letters for each job is actually worth it. Thanks.

Top comments (24)

webbureaucrat profile image

Yes, but you can't do it halfway.

There are two big things cover letters are good for.

  1. Show off your writing skills. A lot of larger organizations don't have technologists reviewing every resume. A lot of the time, there's at least one layer of either HR personnel or a manager who hasn't written code in a couple decades. Thus, communication skills get way overcounted. Fair or not, being eloquent and likeable is the only way through these people.

  2. Connect your resume to the specific role and organization. For example, I recently transitioned from web dev to data engineer. In order to do that, I highlighted my database and architectural experiences among the web-heavy subheadings. When I was applying to roles in the agriculture industry, I talked about my family farm and my belief in the importance of agriculture. Applying to healthcare? What sick person in your life inspires you to help the healthcare industry? You get the idea. Again, keep asking yourself: how would I evaluate candidates if I didn't know how to evaluate technical skill? Your perceived passion and likeability is important in that sense.

Now, the other side is that while there can be a significant payoff to writing a very good cover letter, there's basically no upside at all to writing a mediocre one or a general purpose one you could send to most roles. You need to pretty much start from scratch for every role you apply for.

michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington

I think they are but it depends on the situation.

To @jeremyf's fantastic point below, don't just rehash your resume. I also very much agree with @zangassis that it's best to craft a cover letter for places that you really wanna work at because it's a time investment.

I personally avoid crafting one cover letter to use for every place I apply. Crafting a template is fine to work off of though.

I really like to use a cover letter to address specific things about the place that I've applied β€” talk about why I wanna be there, what exactly I have to offer them, and make note of things particular to them (do some digging and see what they're currently working on and speak to that) so that it shows I did my homework on their business.

jeremyf profile image
Jeremy Friesen

To clarify, my cover letter has 5 paragraphs. The first paragraph is uniquely me and different from many I've seen. Then I have themes for each of the three paragraphs and the fifth paragraph is a conclusion.

I also keep a bank of all of those paragraphs/cover letters in a file. This way I have the start of my words.

I also use org-mode's macros to add fields to the cover letter so I always can provide the correct company and position name.

Another benefit of a cover letter is the aspect of writing to learn. One of my cover letters was a response to details I saw on the company's site. I wrote a unique cover letter and along the way learned very much why I wanted to work there.

jeremyf profile image
Jeremy Friesen

Yes...ish. I will read every cover letter because this is a chance to hear any contextualization or things that won't show up on a resume.

Your personality and writing skills can be on display.

But so many cover letters I read are a rehashing of the resume. Those are at best worthless.

jonrandy profile image
Jon Randy πŸŽ–οΈ • Edited

No. The last time I wrote one was in the late 90s. When I've been hiring (which I've done a lot of) - I've never actually seen a cover letter. I'm actually curious if this is a regional thing? Most people who said 'yes' are US based... my experiences are drawn from 27 years working in the UK and in Thailand

drhyde profile image
David Cantrell

Most of the jobs I've got in the last coupla decades have either been through an agent or because I know someone who works there, so no cover letter needed. The few times I have written one it's been very short, just a few sentences in an email drawing particular attention to selected parts of the CV that is attached.

fhinkel profile image
Franziska Hinkelmann, Ph.D.

Instead of a cover letter, I have a statement at the top of my resume. I change that for the role to make it super clear for the Hiring Manager why I'm a good fit. Shorter than a cover letter, but better than no cover letter.

Here's an example I'd use for an engineering manager role with a focus on open source: I’m a people and engineering leader who likes building developer platforms. I’m a Node.js core collaborator and an elected member of the Node.js Technical Steering Committee.

Hope this is helpful!

cicirello profile image
Vincent A. Cicirello

In some cases, a cover letter might be required. The system we use flags applications that are missing a cover letter (or any other document we specify as required in the job advertisement) as incomplete. The candidate can see that their application is marked incomplete and why so they know they need to submit one. And we're not allowed to review incomplete applications.

Even if not required, a cover letter gives you the opportunity to explain why you want that specific job at that specific organization. A well-written, targeted cover letter can help your application stand out over another with a generic cover letter, all else being equal.

yuridevat profile image
Julia πŸ‘©πŸ»β€πŸ’»

I think it depends on in which country and at what company you are applying for a job.

I do not see any sense in a cover letter and was way to lazy to write a single one when I was looking for a job a year ago as a frontend developer. I applied only with my CV for jobs found with Linkedin "Easy Apply", OR I still applied even if the company was asking for a cover letter in the job description.

Either way almost every application led to an interview, therefore I think cover letter is not worth it and the CV is where you should focus.

I wrote an article back than on how to create a strong CV (for juniors with no work experience), but maybe it can still help you as well.

ca55idy profile image

I was taught to write a concise and targeted cover letter at school but i've been in this industry 14 years now and never actually written a single cover letter.
My experience has been that the recruiter (internal or agent) will copy and paste your experience and details into the potential employers preferred format anyway and then pad it out a bit more after their initial phone call with you.

mark_nicol profile image
Mark Nicol

I've recently been helping with a recruitment and have been surprised just how much a good cover letter makes a big difference when viewing an application.
I'd agree with the people that say it doesn't need to be long and that a general cover letter is often no better than no cover letter at all. What it can do is give context - why is it this job you are interested in, in what ways do you feel you would fit and to draw the recruiter's attention to things that might not be obvious from your CV - any gaps, if you've had a very different role in the past how you can see those skills being useful or this job being a step in a direction you are wanting to go.
From the other side I've found in the past that putting together even a couple of paragraphs helps me think - do I want this job? What would I have to learn? How good a match is it really? and to delve into the description and the advert to decide does this actually sound like a place I would be happy working.

spiderpig86 profile image
Stanley Lim

I would only say it is worth it for companies you are really interested in working at. That could be a differentiator, but for large companies I don't think it would make too much of a difference. For smaller companies, perhaps startups, they may pay closer attention to these things.

steveblue profile image
Stephen Belovarich • Edited

A cover letter demonstrates your intent, which isn’t clear from a resume. Before writing the letter, research the company, review the job details, any other pertinent information. You have an opportunity to relay what benefit you will bring to the company in a cover letter. Use the letter as a space to convince a future employer you’re good for the position. This is also a good way to show off your communication skills.

Chances are less than 5% of applicants bothered to write a cover letter, unless it’s mandatory. The content therein could be what differentiates you from the rest of the talent pool.

Keep it to one page. Your resume should ideally be one page as well and only contain relevant content for the position.

Always write a cover letter. You really don’t have anything to lose by writing one. At the very least it helps you organize your thoughts for the interview.

ashleyjsheridan profile image
Ashley Sheridan

I've never written a cover letter for any job, and I've been in this industry for 16 years now. It doesn't seem to have hurt my chances at all, but I would say that a clean CV layout really helps. The people reviewing your CV may not always be very technical, so it needs to be as readable as possible, and should be easy for anyone to be able to skim read and pull out what they feel is relevant to them.

Also, as someone who's interviewed many developers over the years, I've seen only a handful of cover letters, it's almost always only CVs. Sometimes I might be reveiwing many CVs at once, and it comes back to a clean layout again. As long as the CV is formatted nicely and is clear to read, then it's going to get my full attention. For me, the information I need is on the CV, a cover letter won't tell me anything that I can't get from their CV and a quick look over any public social media they have shared.

ginettanyk profile image

If you have a full resume (that includes organisations you belong/subscribe to as well as hobbies -- which many don't include) then you can put your personality on display with a cover letter.
I find a cover letter will determine your personality fit within the org / team.

Other than that, I chime in with others in saying it is a way to enhance the skills you are bringing.

Better to include one than not. It shows a certain level of commitment even if you aren't super eager for the role. Burning bridges can be a thing if the job comes around again and HR remembers.

Best of luck if you are job hunting!

orimdominic profile image
Orim Dominic Adah

I've never been given preferential treatment or an interview because I wrote a cover letter. I used to write it for every application but now I write it only if it's compulsory.
Maybe I don't write good cover letters, I don't know, but cover letters have never given me a upper hand.
It could also be because of my country of origin though πŸ€·πŸΎβ€β™‚οΈ