Hundreds of years after Leonardo da Vinci introduced the first resume , job applicants and employers alike were presented with the cover letter – a document in which candidates provide additional information on their skills and experience.
Fast-forward to the 2000’s, where a lot has changed. Technology reigns supreme, and you’d be hard to find a company that isn’t looking to hire a developer (or 20).
Developers are unsure if you're even reading their cover letters
A developer cover letter is a great way for someone to stand out from the crowd. They can easily show off their skills and describe why they would be a good fit for the specific company. But then you read stats like this one from reCareered -- 90% of hiring professionals surveyed ignored every cover letter sent to them – and wonder if applicants should even be bothering.
Carmen Tsang, Career Services Coordinator of Lighthouse Labs, says, “It's a love-hate relationship with cover letters for candidates. They painstakingly write them and personalize them, but at the end of the day, they often get sucked into the black hole of the ATS.”
Writing skills are secondary to coding skills
14% of developers we surveyed said that writing cover letters was the most annoying aspect of the job search. And we assume even more would consider it in their top three “pet peeves” of the hiring process. It’s been said that Google often prefers to see the coding already being done by individuals before reaching out to them—skipping the cover letter entirely.
Michael Materasso, Sr. Executive Recruiter, Product & Tech at AC Lion, is not a fan of cover letters when it comes to hiring technical candidates. He says, “In most cases, for me, the resume speaks louder than the cover letter. If you can code, most companies don’t care if you can write a developer cover letter or not.”
Side projects tell you much more about a developer's qualifications
Some developers believe that “good” companies won’t require cover letters since they know of better ways to access the candidate’s technical skills and gauge their ability to perform the job. They see cover letters as a waste of time and an outdated practice, and would rather include links to their side projects or open source contributions. Tsang put it well when she said, “At the end of the day, the onus should be on employers eliminating traditional application processes, and adopt more modern platforms where applicants can demonstrate their experience/skill set and get feedback so that they don't constantly have to try to go through the gatekeepers."
If you still feel that cover letters are an important part of the developer application process, that’s ok. But take into consideration the candidates you could be missing out on who see them as a roadblock. If they are required, perhaps suggest a 200-word limit to keep things sweet, simple, and to-the-point. Or make them optional – that allows them to decide for themselves.