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The Cover Letter is (Almost) Dead

A while ago I found myself in the surreal situation of having to teach my 8-year-old cousin how to use a landline phone.

“Hit the ‘on’ button,” I instructed her, “and wait for the dial tone.”

She stared at me with a blank expression.

“What’s a dial tone?”

This moment starkly highlighted the generational changes I’ve noticed in my practice as a career coach to millennials and a mentor to forthcoming coaches. Much like my cousin’s confusion with the dial tone, clients are starting to ask me about archaic job-hunting practices that do seem like they’re from the Stone Age.

“…A cover letter?” they ask incredulously. “Isn’t the email I send with my resume attachment the same thing as a cover letter?”

Older generations often scoff at this mentality, attributing millennials’ reluctance to follow old rules as a symbol of laziness or entitlement issues. The truth is that millennials were raised in a world of speedy communication, where conversations and decisions took place in the realm of 140 character tweets, texts and other forms of instant communication provided by social media platforms. Furthermore, Gen Y witnessed (or created) inefficient processes gradually be replaced by time-saving, energy-conserving technologies, so we aren’t particularly tolerant of activities that waste our time.

The data says it all.

While 90% of hiring managers admit that they never even read cover letters, 53% of employers prefer a candidate who submits a cover letter.

The conclusion? Your cover letter won’t get read, but it will be acknowledged when included in your application.

In short, cover letters are dead.

And in the next 10 years, the workforce will be comprised almost entirely of millennials, a generation that loves speedy communication, which means we can expect to see the cover letter disappear altogether.

Here are four reasons why cover letters are soon to be extinct.

1. Cold networking. A cover letter is meant to provide information about the candidate that the resume doesn’t capture, but there are better ways to learn about a person that the workforce is already embracing: Today, 80% of jobs never get publicly posted and 80% of jobs are acquired through networking. Needless to say, those numbers underscore the scarcity of the cover letter in today’s job hunt. If you want results, it’s time to network… And when you’re networking properly, you aren’t outright asking for a job; you’re setting up informational calls and coffees in order to build an authentic connection. In short, you’re building a relationship with a person who could champion your application and refer you to other people for positions. In the eyes of a hiring manager, the referral of a trusted colleague or peer provides a stronger guarantee than a cover letter ever could.

2. Social Media tells us what the resume and cover letter won’t (so be responsible). The workforce is changing, and as social media gives us more access to each other’s lives, cover letters are becoming unnecessary. If a hiring manager wants to know the story your resume won’t tell, they can easily do a quick Google search, check their Twitter feed or scroll through their Facebook photos. In fact, an estimated three out of four hiring managers check social media profiles.

3. Social media does it faster. An estimated 92% of companies use social media to recruit candidates. Why? Because companies recognize that it takes less time to make the hire. Already, tools such as Linkedin are negating the importance of the hard copy resume, while Skype and Facetime are making it easy to conduct interviews and networking meetings between people in different places. There’s no denying the significance and impact social media has made on the hiring process: By the time a recruiter or hiring manager decides to approach a candidate, they’ve already completed their vetting and are usually ready to set up an interview.

4. The rise of the freelancer. For companies that are looking to maximize their outputs without bringing on new hires, freelancers are an increasingly appealing and affordable option. By 2020, an estimated 50% of the workforce will be full-time freelancers, and employers won’t waste time reading cover letters to decide which ones to hire: They’ll want to see testimonials, impressive client portfolios and results.

Like it or not, it won’t be long before the cover letter is shipped off to the graveyard of eras past, where it will rest eternally among pagers, Beanie Babies, and Blockbuster membership cards.

In the short meantime, however, we still have to contend with this relic. If a job application demands a cover letter, there’s no getting around the fact that you’ll have to write one…My only consolation is that it will probably be one of the last.

If you want to position yourself to land more job offers in the future, start putting all of your focus and efforts into your social media presence, elevator pitch, and above all, your networking. When the cover letter finally takes its last breath, you’ll not only be well versed in the ways of its replacements, you’ll have a wide circle of professional contacts who are already lined up to refer you to hiring managers.

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