Do cover letters still matter? Here’s what data shows

If you ever tried to craft a cover letter, you know how daunting this task can be. The Internet is full of tips on how to create a perfect cover letter, but they don’t make the process less difficult and time-consuming.

The question is: Is the result worth the effort? Do companies still want candidates to send them the cover letters?

Some studies say that only 18% of recruiters consider cover letters important. Others state that 56% of employers want applicants to send cover letters. Jointly, with the CV Compiler team, we performed our own data-driven research to see if cover letters really matter in 2019.

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How many tech companies do demand a cover letter?

To perform the analysis, we’ve looked through 300 tech vacancies from the companies of 3 kinds:

  • Tech giants: 5000+ employees (such as Google, Facebook, Amazon);
  • Medium-sized companies: 501-1000 employees (such as Snowflake, Puppet, Smartronix);
  • Fast-growing startups:  1-200 employees (such as Perfecta, Pietech, Exxact).

For objectivity, we took only 1 vacancy per company. The following chart shows the result of our analysis — the number of tech companies that had a field for a cover letter in their application forms:

As you see, the smaller the companies are, the more often they demand a cover letter. I guess that’s because of the huge number of applications recruiters at big companies receive for each vacancy. They barely have time to look through all of the resumes, not saying anything about cover letters. So, the tech giants rarely include the corresponding field to their application forms not to waste both recruiters’ and candidates’ time.

In general, more than half of tech companies (56%) still add the cover letter fields to their application forms. Truth be told, in the prevailing majority of those forms, the cover letter fields were optional. However, it would be wrong to say that the habit of writing cover letters already belongs to the past.

So, is a cover letter really important?

I’d rather say: if there is a possibility to add a cover letter, better do it. However, it shouldn’t be the boring tirade about how communicable and stress-resistant you are. We usually give our users the following cover letter tips:

  • Specify the position you’re applying for, and tell where you discovered it.
  • Show your interest in the particular position and company. Research on the company’s recent projects and achievements, and briefly describe what stunned you the most and why you want to work exactly there.
  • Don’t describe your personal qualities, describe the benefits an employer will get if they hire you. It will be perfect if you briefly list your major accomplishments and prove them with numbers.
  • Our favorite tip: Keep things short, (300 words or less will be perfect).

What format should a cover letter have?

Here are the preferences for different cover letter formats among those companies that had a corresponding field in their application forms:

As we were analyzing the vacancies, we noticed that startups usually had much simpler application forms than tech giants. So, it’s no wonder that many small companies prefer written text — they just add another text field along with the ones for your name, e-mail, and location. Some of such fields allow you to format your writing, some of them don’t. As of the size of the written cover letter, companies usually want you to write up to 4000 symbols.

In general, most of the companies want candidates to attach a file. Usually, the supported formats are .docx, .pdf, .html, .xlsx, or .jpg. So, if you’re going to start looking for new jobs, I’d recommend you to prepare a cover letter template in one of those formats. However, for those especially creative, attaching videos is also allowed in some of the forms 🙂

Avoiding pitfalls

My other advice is: read the vacancies really carefully. You can come across something like this …

… or this …

… or even this …

… and it would be a pity to miss an excellent job opportunity because of such a tiny detail.

Surely, if an employer clearly states that they don’t accept cover letters, or doesn’t mention them in the list of the necessary documents, don’t send one.

If you’re still in doubt about whether you need a cover letter or not, here is another fact from our research. Among those companies, who had a field for a cover letter, 56% of tech giants, 60% of medium-sized companies, and 43% of start-ups put the Cover Letter field near the top of their application forms.

Is LinkedIn a new cover letter?

While browsing through the tech vacancies, we noticed another interesting tendency: many companies add the LinkedIn’s ‘Quick Apply’ buttons to their application forms. To be more precise, I’m talking about 38% of big companies, 36% of medium-size companies, and 21% of startups. In addition to that, 12% of big companies, 3% of medium-size companies, and 10% of startups allow applying through Indeed, Seek, Xing, SmartProfile, or even Facebook.

So, if you’re not a big fan of spending ~5-20 minutes on filling each application form, optimizing your social media profiles might be a good time investment. Along with the opportunity to apply more quickly, that will increase your web presence, which may result in attractive offers coming at your door even without searching and applying.

As you now see, cover letters in the tech industry haven’t gone far in the past yet. I guess that for non-tech jobs, such as those in design or marketing, they’re even more important. So, it would be great if you had a well-structured cover letter template, which you could adjust to every (tech) vacancy you apply to. Keep your cover letters focused, short, and personalized, and some of them may help you get that sought-after job someday!

This article was brought to you by the team of CV Compiler, the Machine Learning-powered resume enhancement tool for software engineers, designers, and managers in tech. 

Andrew Stetsenko is an HR-Tech entrepreneur, who founded, GlossaryTech, and CV Compiler, products used by recruiters and software engineers worldwide. Andrew has over 10 years of recruiting experience with a technical background.