Are You For or Against Traditional Cover Letters?

Recruitment isn’t one size fits all. Indeed, in many ways it’s those that do things differently that get ahead. If every employer recruited the same way, then every employer would attract the same applicants. Ideally you need to be better at recruiting than your competitors, and that may mean doing things differently.

But that doesn’t mean you should always do things differently either. You wouldn’t skip job interviews altogether. You wouldn’t require applicants to send in pictures of themselves and judge them on how well they take a “selfie.” Some parts of the application process work, and you wouldn’t change them completely in an attempt to be different.

Traditional Cover Letters vs. New Cover Letters

One part of the application process that has now been called into question is the value of the cover letter. Right now, there are two types of cover letters:

  • Traditional 3 paragraph cover letters.
  • Non-traditional cover letters.

By non-traditional letters, we mean anything from long cover letters to unusually formatted cover letters, to “letters of interest” and anything in between. It’s any cover letter that doesn’t fit the standard, and tries to stand out in some way from the pack.

Traditional cover letters have long been the norm. Three paragraphs. One paragraph introduces the position you’re applying for and where you found it, one is about you as a candidate, and one is about having the hiring manager contact you. This is how it’s been done for years, and how you’ll see it on most cover letter advice websites.

But these days, non-traditional cover letters are popping up everywhere. You’ll see bulleted lists, no recap of the position, multiple paragraphs and maybe even multiple pages. In the past, this type of “daring” behavior was looked at as unprofessional, but now more and more employers are accepting them with open arms.

Which One is Better?

Applicants often worry about which one is better. But as an employer, your concern isn’t necessarily which is better, but rather what they mean about the applicant.

Traditional cover letters:

  • Prove the applicant follows directions.
  • Show whether the applicant can make limited space interesting.
  • Give you a brief way of learning more about the applicant that isn’t time consuming.

On the other hand, non-traditional cover letters:

  • Potentially tell you more about the applicant (when done well).
  • Are more interesting and show that a candidate stands out.
  • Ensures the applicant’s abilities are judged by the content.

It’s not a matter of which is better. Both tell you different things. Ideally, you look at both for what they are – punishing neither the traditional cover letter people nor the non-traditional cover letter people, and instead using whichever they choose as information for judging the applicant.

But every recruiter has their preferences. So what are yours? Are you for traditional cover letters or non-traditional cover letters? Or perhaps are you someone that wants no cover letter at all?