The Cover Letter

Down by Half but Not Out in Job Postings

Published on Apr 12, 2022

Updated on Nov 3, 2022

Written by Scott Bittle

American employers are only half as likely to ask for a cover letter in job postings as they were 10 years ago–a long-term shift that post-pandemic labor shortage may solidify.

Yet before you toss away that Word template and clever quote, consider this: the demand for a cover letter may have actually increased since the pandemic hit, depending on the industry. 

For many jobseekers, the cover letter has always been a dreaded part of the application process. A good cover letter is supposed to allow a jobseeker to tailor their pitch to the specific company and role, showing off both their communication skills and their enthusiasm. Even if they don’t ask for one, some hiring managers argue that they are good to have.

But writing a letter for every application is exhausting, and may not be relevant to the job itself anyway. Because of the shortage of workers, many companies are rethinking how they hire, from posting salaries to dropping degree requirements. In the current climate, are cover letters another hurdle that hiring managers should consider skipping?

If so, it’s a trend that started well before the pandemic. In 2012, 5.4% of all US job postings mentioned a cover letter. By 2021, that was down to 2.3%. However, most of that decline occurred before the pandemic hit: in 2019, before Covid-19, 2.9% of postings mentioned cover letters.

Jobs that require a college degree are more likely to ask for a cover letter than those that don’t, but the decline can be seen no matter what the education requirements are. In 2021 only 1% of non-college job postings required a cover letter, compared to 4% for jobs that require a bachelor’s degree.

What is even more striking is how much the demand for cover letters differs by industry. In fields like Transportation and Warehousing, Retail Trade, or Mining, fewer than 1% of postings ask for a cover letter–and even those declined after the pandemic hit. Only 0.6% of Transportation postings asked for a cover letter in the six months before March 2020, and even that small percentage fell 46% by 2022.

Yet for Management and Educational Services, the percentage requiring cover letters increased (78% and 18%, respectively).

In fact, if you’re applying for jobs in Public Administration or Educational Services, the cover letter is still going to be an important tool. One in five Educational Services postings want a cover letter, as well as 11.2% of Public Administration posts–far above any other industries. Letter-writing skills count in these fields.

And for the other industries? Overall, the cover letter is on its way out–but it’s not gone yet.