Ask HR: Are Resumes and Cover Letters Obsolete?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP September 18, 2020
Ask HR: Are Resumes and Cover Letters Obsolete?

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today. The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.

Question: Due to the global pandemic, many sweeping changes have taken place. Will resumes, CVs and cover letters become a thing of the past? What will be the proper medium to apply to job opportunities? —Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: We might be acclimated now, but remember, we jumped from record-low unemployment to unemployment levels unseen since the Great Depression. That's unbelievable and a tragedy for the millions of hardworking Americans affected, so I hope neither you nor your loved ones are among them.

But even if you are, don't get too down on yourself. After all, refreshing your resume, CV and cover letter will keep you busy and get you back into the swing of things in no time.

Resumes, CVs and cover letters are the bread and butter of recruitment and hiring, so most employers still take them seriously. And, yes, while the world of work is ever-changing, the reality remains this: They're not going anywhere anytime soon.

Now, before breaking down why that's the case, I want to quickly distinguish between the types of materials you mentioned.

Resumes are usually one-to-two-page summaries of your experiences, skills, qualifications and achievements. Resumes are more common in the world of work, but there are also CVs, which is short for "curricula vitae." These serve the same purpose but are much longer (featuring your entire career) and are typically more common in academic and scientific circles.

Cover letters, on the other hand, can address common questions a recruiter might ask, such as why you want to work for the company, what makes you the right fit and how you're unique. Or, perhaps, your cover letter might explain a gap in employment on your resume.

Ultimately, these different documents aim to reinforce one message: why they should hire you. It might seem like a lot of work, but I promise you it will be a wise investment of your time.

If you decide to update your own resume, CV and cover letter, here are three things to keep in mind:

  • Don't list every job you've ever had to show "experience."
  • Be clear and concise.
  • Your materials should reflect the job you want, not the ones you've had.

Best of luck!


Question: I have been temping, as needed, for about five years for a government office. They recently posted a position that I would have loved to have applied for, but, because I was working for them in a stressful overtime period, I missed the opportunity. This is totally on me and a lesson learned.

Here's where I'd love your perspective: The job posting said they'd use all submitted applications as a pool for future positions. When I e-mailed the HR manager asking if I could submit to the pool, she sent me what felt like a cold response that the position was closed and so was the pool. Is it just me, or does it seem unfair that this pool, only advertised inside a specific posting, wasn't advertised on its own? Am I missing something? Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I'm sorry you missed out on the job you wanted to get, but I'm happy to hear you're framing it as a lesson learned.

I understand how you might be put off by HR's response. After all, you've been putting in work as a temp for quite some time now. But I wouldn't take it too personally. You mentioned it's a government office, so it's possible that applications cannot be accepted after a certain deadline. 

Additionally, most governmental entities have an affirmative action program and/or equal employment opportunity commitments requiring them to follow established guidelines in recruiting, interviewing and selecting candidates. This is to ensure a fair process for all who apply.

If this organization hires often, try exploring other openings that might fit your skill set. Or see if resumes are saved for future consideration; some organizations have a system that alerts interested applicants when a new position opens. If possible, try signing up or submitting your application early so you don't miss your next chance.

Lastly, you could consider tactfully asking the HR manager the best way to make it known that you are interested in a particular position. He or she may give you some helpful tips and guidance on applying for permanent positions at the organization. 



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