Cover Letters Are Worthless And Outdated

I started recruiting in 1980, and in that thirty years I have either run or owned executive search firms. IMPACT Hiring Solutions is a very active executive search firm. For the first fifteen years I worked mainly in the finance and accounting field and most of the searches were contingent, meaning I got paid when the company hired a candidate that I presented to them. Until then I worked for free.

In the last fifteen years I have shifted to a retained recruiter and now my searches cover just about every functional area from HR, Sales, Finance,Operations and so on. Now as a retained recruiter I get paid when I start the search and as the search progresses.

This is only relevant to demonstrate that I have had a lot of opportunities over the last thirty years to see how recruiting and the hiring process has changed. I have been able to interact with just about every functional area in a company with literally thousands of hiring executives, HR professionals and CEOs to observe their practices. I’ve watched them screen resumes, I’ve asked if they want or read cover letters, what grabs their attention and what turns them off, what resume format they prefer and how long a resume should be.

The plain fact is that one can’t do anything for thirty years and not learn something.


With the invention of the Internet hiring changed. It continues to evolve even today with the explosion of social media and sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. When I started thirty years ago we hadn’t heard of a fax machine. Resumes and cover letters were all sent via snail mail. If that wasn’t bad enough, they were typed one at a time on a typewriter (for those of you too young to know what a typewriter is Google it for a picture or the Smithsonian has them to view). Every tiny change meant you had to retype the complete resume. Cut and paste didn’t exist.

Hence the need for the “cover letter.” Back then customizing a resume meant you had to retype it yourself (and most people back then didn’t type) or paying someone to type it which wasn’t practical or affordable. So instead, candidates added a cover letter to highlight areas in their background to match the position. Some cover letters were even handwritten and that was acceptable. Back then, the cover letter served a valuable and practical purpose.

Fast forward to the 21st century. With laptops being as common as toasters, the invention of word processing, email, social media and the fact that everyone can type, the ability to customize a resume to a specific position can be done in a matter of minutes. Hence, the traditional cover letter lost its purpose and value.

But just like a government program, once it starts it rarely goes away, so the cover letter continues to live even though it is no longer useful (just like many government programs).


All of the controversy today about cover letters lingers because so many candidates don’t know what to do or how to do it. As a result, they rely on outdated information, that is how we have always done it or that is the way we did it thirty years ago. Yeah, and my dad walked thirteen blocks everyday to school in the snow, sleet, pouring rain and without boots. Well, my kids didn’t do that because times have changed and some things just out live their usefulness e.g. 5.25 floppy disks, 8-track cassettes and DOS programming and the cover letter!!!


Cover letters can serve a purpose even today. They can still be used to highlight how your experience and skills align with the job. But that is it.

Candidates still use cover letters as a way to update their resume instead of rewriting it. They put information in the cover letter that should be in the resume and figure that it’s acceptable. WELL, IT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.

A cover letter today should be used like a sound bite in a commercial. It should grab the reader’s attention and get them interested enough to read your resume. Then, when they read your resume, they should find not only everything listed in the cover letter, but additional points of interest that distinguish you from all of the other candidates.

Your cover letter is simply a short advertisement about how you align with the open position, so that the reader is compelled to read your newly rewritten, focused and targeted resume for their specific position.


Should you have a cover letter or not is another point. I say “YES.” Only because over the years many HR professionals, CEOs and hiring managers have told me that they want one. They believe it is polite and a professional introduction. It is true that many don’t care if you have one or not, but it is better to have one for those that want one, and those that don’t care will just ignore it and move on.

One more way we can help you is to speak directly with you utilizing our webinars. Our time and knowledge is valuable so YES, we do charge a nominal fee for the webinar. To balance that, we also offer a lot more tools and resources for FREE than what we charge for.

We’ve DEEPLY DISCOUNTED THE WEBINAR FOR THOSE JOB SEEKERS WITHIN OUR JOB SEARCH COMMUNITY – loyal followers on Twitter, readers of our blog, and members of our LinkedIn Job Search Discussion Group.

In a lively one-hour presentation, I’ll show you the inside secrets (from a retained executive recruiter’s perspective) of how to get your resume reviewed every single time and boost your resume acceptance rate (the number of times you get called for an interview from submitting your resume) from a dismal level of less than 10% to well into the 50% PLUS RANGE. If you’re reading this blog, when you sign up for the webinar use the coupon code IMPROVEMYRESUME.

If the small, inconsequential, almost non-existent fee for the webinar is too much to bear to boost your resume acceptance rate and cut your job search time dramatically, please feel free to download our many FREE resources for job seekers, including our radio show broadcasts, cover letter sample, and other tools.

You can download for free a sample cover letter that aligns your background with the position and is not a substitute for the resume. CLICK HERE to download your sample cover letter.

Join our LinkedIn Job Search Networking Group for vibrant discussions, articles and much more information to help you in your job search. CLICK HERE to join the 3600+ LinkedIn members that already have.

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Brad Remillard


About the Author

Brad Remillard is a founding Partner of IMPACT Hiring Solutions, co-author of "You're NOT the Person I Hired", and "This is NOT the Position I Accepted". Brad is an award-winning international speaker, retained executive recruiter, and expert on hiring and retaining top talent, and executive job search.


  • By David Szylinski, January 28, 2010 @ 4:49 pm

    Good read- it says it all. David

  • By John Foley, January 28, 2010 @ 6:33 pm

    Dear Mr. Remmillard,
    Thank you for your informative article with regards to the passing of the once loved ‘Cover Letter. Your essay was current and informative, but most importantly, a pleasure to read.
    I for one, am saddened to hear of the sudden, yet timely passing of the much loved ‘Cover Letter.’ Of which, such overly verbose persons, myself included, held with such enthusiam and esteem.
    Taking things into perspective, where else could one air such lofty expressions of hubris and swagger in just two or three short paragraphs? It was one’s didacted and compacted denouement that sometimes graced the front of some of the most illustrious works of modern fiction ever.
    I fear not for the future, as mankind has established replacement for such a void created by the passing of the ‘Cover Letter,’ with new age remedy such as our current venue. Good Luck and ‘I look forward to speaking with you or your designee soon.’

  • By John Hadley, January 28, 2010 @ 7:11 pm

    Brad: I agree with you – a cover letter that simply recites what the resume says is worthless.

    I’ve found a powerful strategy can be writing letters directly to executives requesting a meeting, with no resume attached. For more on this, see this article:

    John West Hadley
    Career Search Counselor
    (908) 725-2437

    “Land The Job & Pay You Deserve”

    Get 100’s of Career Tips at

    Career Accelerator Blog:

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, January 28, 2010 @ 8:26 pm

    Tell the truth have you been learning your vocabulary from Bill O’Rielly’s word of the day?

  • By Ngcareers, January 31, 2010 @ 7:02 pm

    Your articles is very comprehensive and informative. Truly, most job seekers have to learn how to make their cover letter more like a sales letter selling themselves

  • By Warren White, February 2, 2010 @ 4:53 pm

    Brad: Timely topic–I just blogged about cover letters, inspired in part by a discussion in a LinkedIn group. I’m inclined to agree with you for the most part…I’d rather a candidate not include a cover letter than include a poorly written one.

  • By Cynthia Rosso, February 3, 2010 @ 11:13 am

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. Cover letters haven’t disappeared, but they have changed. However, I should add that as a hiring manager in the past looking for good writers, cover letters were a good screening tool. Send me a poorly written letter and you went straight into the trash.

  • By John Mathis, February 3, 2010 @ 11:25 am

    I agree. Today with many companies want more information about candidates they can measure there is a need to be able to determine quickly if the candidate possesses the technical skills the position calls for.

  • By Spencer Hamons, March 3, 2011 @ 10:21 pm

    Dear Mr. Remillard,

    Very nicely put. When I am hiring, cover letters play a significant role in my selection of who will be offered interviews. I need the cover letter to be able to discern who has the grammatical and general writing skills necessary for a professional job, and also to be able to identify those candidates with the ability to convey their thoughts concisely. Resumes are essentially the bullet points of responsibilities and accomplishments. A good resume writer understands the necessity of providing quantitative and qualitative information in their resume, but it is difficult to identify someone’s “finesse” from a resume alone. While we would all love to be able to interview every candidate that applies for a job, that is just not feasible. Job hunters should all take the time to develop a good cover letter specific to the organization and position they are targeting.

  • By Barry Deutsch, March 22, 2011 @ 8:08 am


    Brad and I have each been conducting executive search for over 30 years. We’ve interviewed well over 250,000 candidates. We’ve easily looked at over 2 million resumes. About once a quarter, I see a cover letter from a candidate in a format similar to our advice/recommendations. Usually, I am so impressed that I’ll immediately pick up the phone and call that candidate.

    It’s too bad that most candidates don’t put more emphasis in their cover letters. Usually what we see are candidates “shot-gunning” resumes – just flinging resumes at ads praying that they will get a phone call. OR the other strategy most candidates use is a form letter for their cover letter – this is obvious in the first paragraph and for most recruiters/hiring managers – a huge turn-off.

    You’ll do very well in your job search writing custom and unique cover letters. It will not work every single time, but you should have a much higher level of success gettting to that first phone interview as opposed to your peers using the “shot-gun” method of applying for a job.

  • By jobnetwork, May 3, 2012 @ 12:39 pm

    very informative write up. Its worth reading. Many employers are exploiting new ways to recruit.

  • By jhendor, May 3, 2012 @ 8:03 pm

    Indeed they may be worthless as it is a repitition of what you have in the resume, but however some companies use it as a means to determine the effectiveness of the applicant.

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, May 11, 2012 @ 2:55 pm

    You are correct and I believe we point that out.

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