Rethinking Cover Letters: Potential Biases and Alternatives
By Miranda Cortez
At Edgility our commitment to diversity and equity informs and influences everything we do, and holds our team accountable for reassessing traditional practices that create inequities in the hiring process.
Did you know?
In 1956 cover letters were introduced, and since then, have been a standard feature of the traditional job application. Today, however, there’s an interesting split amongst professionals regarding the cover letter and its relevance. A survey of LinkedIn users revealed that nearly half (44%) believe “the cover letter is dead,” while an almost equal 43% argue that the cover letter is “alive and well.” (source).
With such a varied response to cover letters we want to add our spin to the mix. In this blog, we will explore the challenges associated with cover letters, consider a few alternatives, and share more about how Edgility is rethinking the practice, all while keeping the importance of equity and candidate experience front and center.
A Time-Consuming Dilemma
More and more, recruiters are encouraging folks to tailor both resumes and cover letters to the specific job. Hiration recommends spending 30 minutes writing a cover letter and a 2023 Job Application Statistics report found that on average, job seekers apply to twenty-seven companies before securing an interview. This means that crafting cover letters for all these applications alone could potentially cost a candidate as much as thirteen and a half hours of their time!
In an era where time is a precious resource, candidates may be discouraged from applying to jobs that require a cover letter. We know that the perception of this time-consuming process can deter even the most qualified individuals.
Accessing the “Right Stuff”
While the original purpose of the cover letter was to assess a candidate’s qualifications and fit for a role, its modern utility remains unclear. Recruiters are divided on whether or not they are a useful screening tool, and when clients request them, the question arises: Why?
In our experience, hiring managers argue that the cover letter demonstrates writing ability and shows which candidates put “extra effort” into applying. Unless you’re hiring for a role that requires a strong writer, the cover letter doesn’t actually tell us much about a candidate’s experience and skills. Moreover, there is bias in evaluating a candidate’s willingness to put in the “extra effort” by crafting a cover letter.
Here’s what Edgility’s co-founder, Christina Greenberg has to say about the topic:
“In my experience over the past twenty years of evaluating candidates, cover letters are a good tool to show you someone’s writing ability and how they sell themselves but are a very limited tool in assessing a candidate’s competencies and skills related to the role.”
What to Do Instead: Edgility Best Practices
As our team continues to have conversations about cover letters, we always set out to ensure that every applicant is judged primarily on their skills, experiences, and potential, rather than their ability to navigate the complexities of a traditional cover letter format.
As a result, Edgility has incorporated the use of Targeted Questions: 2-4 tailored questions added to the application designed to assess for key requirements; and our Resume Walk Form, a brief survey with meaningful questions that provide our candidates an opportunity to elaborate on their experience beyond the resume.
Maintaining Rigor in Candidate Assessment
Understandably, many clients have concerns about parting with traditional hiring practices. They want to be certain that they’re selecting the right candidates for their roles.
Edgility, too, understands the importance of a rigorous hiring process that identifies the best fit for each position. Check out our blog on how to Take Action Steps to Combat Bias in the Hiring Process, which outlines actionable strategies for mitigating bias. In her blog, The Best Candidate Isn’t a Unicorn, Serena Moy, Edgility Principal, provides valuable insight into how and why the perfect candidate may not actually meet every single requirement.
If your team is investigating alternative approaches that align with the principles of equity, efficiency, and effectiveness, here are some best practices:
- Clear Purpose: If cover letters are to be used, ensure that they serve a clear and relevant purpose in the hiring process.
- Bias Mitigation: Develop strategies to minimize bias in evaluating candidates’ qualifications and the “extra effort” they put in.
- Candidate Experience: Prioritize the candidate experience, ensuring it remains exceptional, welcoming, and time-conscious throughout the entire process.
- Equity: Maintain a strong focus on equity, ensuring that all candidates, regardless of background, have a fair opportunity to succeed.
Edgility is committed to guiding clients in developing an unbiased hiring process, ensuring that the focus remains on the essential qualifications and skills necessary for success. Our approach is proven to help clients access a diverse pool of candidates. With Edgility’s support, you can make your hiring process more efficient and equitable, resulting in more robust candidate pools and a better candidate experience for those you seek to attract.
Meet the expert:
Client Services Special Projects Manager
“In each new stage of life, systems of oppression persist. The challenges for people of color in the workplace begin long before they’re hired. Knowing this, I remain committed to challenging inequitable hiring practices and advocating for underestimated candidates.”