Recently, I replied to a career services industry leader when they posed a question to "thought leaders" about cover letters. I can hardly believe that in this day in age of constant communication we are having this debate amongst peers of mine. Innovative career services people understand that every piece of writing and communication must be effective. Hiring a career services professional should mean that they are open to and can lead you to effective ideas that work.
My reply can be seen below. Yes, this is how I talk to my friends.
Here is the bottom line – it's what the audience wants, needs and expects. Or it is up to you to break the rules and send something influential and amazing. For example, look at what your thought leader Susan Whitcomb says about writing reference sheets. Innovative coaching. I use her ideas her on some clients and have originated some twists to reference information passing that I have seen nowhere else.
We can have a chitty-chat debate on all the pros and cons of cover letters. Is this a question at all for "thought leaders" or should this be covered in career services 101? Feel free to chat it up but as "thought leaders" the discussion should be focused on how innovative writing moves people to take action. If the audience expects or the computer system needs nothing more than resume type language and facts then give it to them. But if you can coach or originally present your clients do it.
If you are communicating with a person or if you have a chance to influence someone with a writing sample then send an innovative, targeted letter. Call it a cover letter or something else. Does it matter? Do you think anyone receiving it really cares what our career services industry pet title is to a professional letter? I don't. Do they? I would suggest they care about content, following through on expectations set by demands of the announcement or other considerations.
Let me give you an example that might help illustrate. The question was raised at a career conference a couple years ago to recruiting directors from Google and Starbucks. The Google hiring person said "we don't care about cover letters" and moved on. Don't worry. The discussion then centered around the sacred cover letter issue for another ridiculous 30 minutes. The Starbucks person said they would be influenced by a well-written introductory letter. Don't worry. Another in the business for 23 month person corrected the Starbucks person and told her that "we" (career services people of course) call them cover letters. I wanted to disappear.