Whether perusing the major job platforms (Stepstone, Monster), your favorite professional social networks (LinkedIn, XING), or the career section of a company’s website, the job offers you find never fail to end with “Send us your application (CV + cover letter)…” I went through a couple of job offers over the last few days, all required the same documents. In Germany, they might even want more from you, such as reference letters from former employers, copies of your diplomas, a portfolio of your projects/designs/achievements, and proof that you are eligible to work in Germany if relevant. They might as well call the career page the red rape page!
Of course, some of them make sense at some point during the application process, and they are not all required by all employers. Proof of your experience and education even tends to be omitted in the recent years. But one item is still demanded, and to me, the least useful of all: the cover letter.
Let’s take a look at it from the applicant’s perspective. It’s mostly about copy-pasting your template introduction and conclusion around a verbose nausea about how great the company is, how great you are for the company, how much of a fantastic match you and the job are. It could be summed up in a four-word sentence “let’s do it”. Instead you are just brought to write on and on about information that a) will be in your CV anyway b) will be shared during an interview c) is highly hypocritical because nobody truly “welcomes the opportunity to discuss the position in a personal interview”. Even if you add “most sincerely” at the end of your letter.
Now, let’s see what HR does with your cover letter. Nothing. Seriously. I checked Quora, asked HR managers, and at some point I did review applications myself: only the CV is read – sorry scanned for key words – everything else is irrelevant.
So the question is why do we keep on engaging in this silly game? I guess like for many other things, the answer is “it’s just how we have always done it and why question it if it works.” Fair enough. I don’t expect one person from a 25-person HR team in a 2,000-employee company to shake things up. But when I see startups following the same tedious hiring steps, I am disappointed. Where is your agile approach, startups? Where is your short-path, dynamic decision making, entrepreneur?
Well then, what do we do instead?
So here I am pointing at the problem in my ivory tower, what about solutions now?
No cover letter. Just ask for a résumé. I believe people will tell the truth, and so should you. Trust issues are not well-perceived in this world. Of course, some facts might be slightly exaggerated, some dates might be adjusted and some titles might be rewritten. But a cover letter will not prevent that anyway, and the straight facts of a CV are less likely to be twisted than in a prosaic cover letter.
Feedback questionnaire. Just setup a poll form on any platform that offers it (SurveyMonkey, Google form, etc.) and gather some impressions and feedback from the candidates. First of all, you get valuable feedback about your products, website, or image for free. Then you make the candidate take a real good look at your company while making sure that he or she does not mix up there/their/they’re in his or her answers.
Speed phone call. Set 5-minute phone call with the applicant to ask your core questions and check the deal-breaking conditions. If it goes well, you can invite them for a lengthier, more classic interview, with the usual “tell me about yourself, what have you done so far, what are your salary expectations, etc.”
A 140/256/x-character cover letter. Ask the candidate to present their CV in a tweet. It will be read, it tests creativity, goes straight to the essentials, and saves time to all parties.
They are most definitely other ways to appraise an application – if you have any ideas, don’t hesitate to share them with us. And if you are a big supporter of the cover letter, please speak up – I’m really curious about your arguments!
“Pardon my French” is a column about startups by John Barré. It is a personal opinion about ideas and concepts. Whether the business model is tangible, the layout of the website enticing, or the user journey a pleasant path, all of these (and much more!) are scrutinized and summed up according to John’s viewpoint.