Are Cover Letters Dead?

The mantra of ‘Be Brilliant, Be Brief” is a great moniker for today’s cover letters as they have transformed over the years, from long and detailed to short and concise. Although one page letters can still be valuable, the need for brevity is pushing them to become shorter and shorter.

Many also doubt the validity of their use. As a resume writer, one of the most common questions I’m asked is, “Do I still need to send a cover letter?” My reply is always the same, “Well, it depends.” And it does, indeed, depend on quite a few things.

  • Let’s begin with the obvious. If the job posting requests a cover letter, then it certainly needs to be included even though, in all likelihood, it will probably never be read. Yes, you do need to customize each letter for each individual position even when you are aware that recruiters never look at them and that hiring managers rarely do.

I’ve been in enough round table discussions to know that recruiters aren’t interested in cover letters and that managers get so bogged down in the hiring process, they simply don’t have the time. The odds may be against having your letter read, but the consequences of not including one, when requested, may be severe.

  • For job postings that don’t request a cover letter, consider whether it’s beneficial to expend the effort to create a customized version that fits the position. Generic letters don’t meet this requirement and are a waste of time.

An easy format to use is an introductory paragraph that highlights your strong connection with the position, followed by several projects that will be of interest to the employer. Never copy and paste these projects directly from your resume — rewrite the achievement statements, so it’s not immediately apparent they are the same.

  • When your qualifications are a great fit for the job, use the T-style approach to writing a cover letter. This format makes it extremely easy to view the candidate’s qualifications.

The following table highlights how my background meets your stated position requirements.


Your RequirementsMy Qualifications
Timely and accurate reportingManaged $40M gross for more than 20K employees in each pay cycle and $750M for payroll annually.
Maintenance of payroll system & system upgradesImplemented substantial enhancements to payroll system in both a technical role and as Director of Payroll.
Collaborate with ITExperienced in working with payroll systems in both business and technical job roles.
Payroll tax liability payments & other reporting, administration of garnishmentsServed as Accounting and Tax Manager for the Payroll Office at the University of Washington.
Financial reporting requirementsProduced and verified payroll specific financial reports, such as those for tax accounting and payroll audit.
Work with HR, HR Legal, Labor Relations, & SOX complianceEnsured business objectives and requirements were met. Managed internal controls, reconciliations, business and technology systems security, as well as protecting confidential information.


  • For the briefest of communications, the e-note is a great fit. It can be included in an email message or posted to a jobs portal, using a standard cover letter format. It’s typically up to one-half page in length, and it includes the same information — the who, what, why, and how — while being very concise and to the point. There is no room for embellishment, just the facts.

Below is an example of an e-note: 

Within today’s rapidly changing marketplace, a collaborative and innovative work environment with inspired professionals, along with steadfast determination, are key to the success of any organization — but you already know that. This is the environment in which I thrive as I create high performance environments that produce lasting impacts.


I have succeeded by using an enterprise performance management approach that addresses each of the primary corporate drivers: finance, customers, processes, and capabilities.


Finance: Reduced costs by $1M.


Customers: Created an engaging online experience by evolving the IT infrastructure to meet rapidly changing customer requirements.


Processes: Defined and executed an IaaS strategy for a highly available and scalable infrastructure.


Capabilities: Led deployment of an ITIL-based, IT Service Management (ITSM) architecture, the company’s first enterprise support model.




Cover letters and e-notes can be powerful communicators, and they are far from dead. As we all know, competition for good IT jobs is fierce worldwide, and all of the available tools need to be maximized. Creating a customized cover letter may not only get you noticed, but it is also an opportunity to learn more about the company and to examine whether it is a good culture and work fit.