Want to start a vehement discussion in a crowd of career professionals? You don’t need to throw a golden apple. Just ask whether job seekers should still write cover letters.

Here are some of the many arguments in favor of the practice:

  • An effective cover letter can capture the reader’s interest,
  • If you don’t write a cover letter, what does that tell your prospective employers about the depth of your preparation or your desire for the job,
  • A cover letter gives you an opportunity to show that you can solve their problems,
  • Writing a cover letter helps you organize your thoughts,
  • You are in sales, which is about differentiation, and cover letters help set you apart from those who don’t bother to write them,
  • It doesn’t help you overcome the disadvantage you have compared with personally referred candidates and those the manager knows personally, and finally,
  • The cover letter is an expected part of business etiquette.

But there is one big reason why some career folks say all these arguments mean nothing. I was looking in an online discussion the other day and I saw a wise career professional comment that “I can’t offer stats, but we know that many if not most (I believe most) cover letters never make it past the ATS.”

Let’s assume for a moment that the cover letters don’t get read by the ATS. Let’s also assume that the ATS will spit out, and managers will read, only a fraction of the incoming tide of applications for each post that their companies receive. Is that a good enough reason to give up writing cover letters?

My answer is simple. Not for a second. Even though the vast majority of cover letters might not make it into the output of a company’s Applicant Tracking System, that doesn’t mean that they don’t get read. Is it possible that hiring managers read cover letters of the highest scoring incoming resumes after the ATS has already identified them?

I think it’s quite likely they read those cover letters. Here’s why.  Not too long ago, I had a client who had applied for a management position at a government agency (which almost certainly used an ATS) and found herself being interviewed as if she was a rock star. This kind of interviewing had not happened to her before so she asked why she was being treated that way. She was told that the employment hiring team had reached out to her as the first interviewee of more than a thousand applicants and one of the reasons for their decision was that her cover letter had a “wow factor.”

So you never know. If your cover letter is read, it can change your world.