Application: the cover letter is dying out – what will replace it?

Application: The cover letter dies out – its successor is already in the starting blocks

For months, countless career advisors and HR managers debated back and forth whether a cover letter for a job application made any sense at all. The fact that Deutsche Bahn received around ten percent more applications as a result of this change was seen as proof that the subject of cover letters is definitely passe.

Hardly anyone seems to mention that the number of applicants certainly increased as well, since the cover letter debate turned out to be a clever marketing move by Deutsche Bahn. It is also not mentioned that Deutsche Bahn does not simply dispense with the cover letter, but has simply replaced it with a questionnaire or with an online aptitude test.

Most cover letters simply do not answer any questions

Writing about yourself and praising your skills to the skies can be quite tedious. After all, you want the company to see you from your best side in order to be invited to an interview. However, most people are not aware of what they reveal about themselves in the cover letter and what they do not reveal. In most cases, a cover letter therefore consists of the information from the resume and a few phrases that have simply been copied from other cover letters.

"They are looking for an enthusiastic and motivating employee who has many years of experience?"This is how a meaningless cover letter can sound. Not everyone has a special talent for writing. Applications seem to be evaluated however straight in this connection. Whether you’re a Germanist, mathematician or engineer, it’s the salesmanship of your skills that determines whether you’re invited to an interview or not.

The problem is: The information that recruiters want to see in the cover letter is usually lost due to numerous application phrases. It is said that a recruiter only takes about ten to 15 seconds per application. If the latter does not find the information he is looking for, or the qualifications and skills an applicant should have, the application is simply sorted out and ends up in the digital wastebasket.

No cover letter at all: Even less information does not solve the problem

If companies dispense with cover letters altogether, they run the risk of simply inviting the wrong applicants. The reason behind this is simply the lack of information about the applicant himself. No matter if you are a talented writer or not, a cover letter is there to give the recruiter a better idea of the applicant and his/her motivation.

If not a single applicant is now required to submit a cover letter, this will inevitably lead to companies receiving less information about candidates.

Companies need to ask specific questions so applicants don’t beat around the bush

English-speaking countries are already showing the way. Especially in academia and some multinational companies, applicants need to answer specific questions instead of writing a cover letter.

As a so-called "Selection Criteria Statement" you receive a detailed questionnaire, which you have to answer either in an online application form or simply in a Word document. Point by point, specific questions are then asked about the applicant’s previous work experience and motivation. Thus, there is no escape and the applicant must face the direct question without being able to hide behind application phrases.

Why a questionnaire will replace the cover letter in the long run

If an applicant lacks a job requirement, he or she naturally does not emphasize this in the cover letter. Now and then, of course, it happens that a recruiter is impressed by the design or the wording of the cover letter and invites the applicant for an interview. In the interview itself, the most important part of the application process begins for the personnel managers. If it now turns out that you have invited an applicant who does not even meet all the requirements, you have to start looking again. A longer application process costs not only the applicant time and money, but of course the company as well.

A question catalog can counteract this. If, for example, you need an employee with special Excel knowledge, you can ask this with all the other requirements. The applicant can then indicate, for example, all Excel functions that he has mastered.

Additionally, the HR department may ask for specific examples related to the requirements. The questionnaire is then, so to speak, a first small mini-interview before the application process continues. Application phrases would no longer be considered, since only the direct answers to the questions asked would count.

Marlene Schimanski is the founder and editor-in-chief of Auslandskarriere. She was sworn in as a translator and interpreter for the English language in 2012 and has been working as a resume writer and career coach for English Career Factory since 2013.

This article appeared on Business Insider back in September 2018. It has now been rechecked and updated.

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