I’ve seen several online debates lately on whether cover letters are necessary any more. But it turns out the real debate is semantic, not substantive.
And article on LifeHacks argues nobody reads cover letters, prizing instead the detailed resume. Author Alan Henry suggests your energy is better spent “customizing your resume, making connections, or building a portfolio of your actual work” than in carefully crafting an introduction to your future employer.
In my experience, looking for work is important enough to do all of these, including the cover letter.
Once you’ve updated your resume, customizing it for each job doesn’t take much work. Once your portfolio is online, that doesn’t take much, either. And making connections is a life-long pursuit of humanity and community that does not pay off in the weeks of a job search, but rather in the years after connections are made.
But reading further into Henry’s article, it seems his argument is really that the body of the email to which you attach your resume has enough information. In fact, Henry’s article is a response to a blog post that says as much: email does the job for you. Of course it does…that IS the cover letter. Just because we’ve moved away from the form of return address, salutation, body, and closing doesn’t mean we’re abandoning cover letters. It means the function of introduction has shifted into a different format but that the “greet the person who will read your application and summarize why you’re a fit” model still stands. It doesn’t matter whether this introduction comes as letter, email, or recommendation from a friend…the purpose is the same.
If the question is, “Do hiring managers always open the file of a separate cover letter attached with your resume to a submission email?” we can answer, “No.” But if the question is, “Does your resume need a careful introduction in some medium so the hiring manager knows why you’re sending a job application?” then the answer is an unequivocal “Yes!” Of course you need a cover email.
Cover email rather than cover letter: semantics for those who want to sensationalize the job application process.