Cover letters are out—here's how today's job seekers are getting hired

A job seeker meets with a recruiter during a HireLive career fair in San Francisco.
Getty Images

Stressing over the details of your painstakingly precise and engaging cover letter? Don't bother.

According to new research from recruiting software company Jobvite's 2017 Job Seeker Nation Study, which used data gathered by Zogby from a recent nationwide survey of 2,200 adults, fewer applicants than ever are submitting cover letters and hiring managers don't miss them.

Forty-seven percent of job seekers didn't submit one at all with their most recent application. And it's not simply a matter of young people rolling their eyes at tradition; experienced workers and novices alike are going without. And they seem to be making the right choice, since only 26 percent of recruiters now "consider cover letters important," according to Jobvite.

What are successful job seekers doing instead? They're relying on referrals, for the most part, which can make it less necessary use a cover letter as an introduction. Jobvite reports: "Almost 35 percent of job seekers applied to their current or most recent position via referral — especially millennials. Luckily, Jobvite data shows that referred applicants are five times more likely than average to be hired, and 15 times more likely to be hired than applicants from a job board."

They're also using creative strategies to stand out in a crowded field. Some send hiring managers unexpected, distinctive packages that help brand themselves. After all, why tell your potential boss you'd be a great fit for the position if you could show them instead?

"Show, don't tell" seems to be the philosophy of one candidate who interviewed recently with digital strategist Jason Dominy. She followed up by, as he describes in a post on LinkedIn, sending a well-decorated bouquet of "six local craft beers," accompanied by "notes on each one connecting them to her own traits and skills."

Dominy called her efforts "amazing." She got the job.

If you still feel most comfortable submitting a thorough, traditional application, consider the counsel of Slate's editor-in-chief Julia Turner, who tells listeners in a recent podcast segment that the best cover letters make an argument.

"I love cover letters as a way to assess job applicants," she says, but they shouldn't serve as "a list of things you've done," followed by blandishments about the position or as "writing exercises" in which you praise yourself.

Instead, "an effective cover letter should be an argument for how the set of experiences you've had up to this point in your career make you the perfect candidate for the job," Turner says. "It should reveal your understanding of the place you're trying to work at and a set of beliefs about how the things you're good at would help that place achieve its goals."

Don't miss: Only half of job seekers negotiate, but those who do usually succeed

These numbers show why you should negotiate your salary
These numbers show why you should negotiate your salary