On the first day of a new search I am often handed a giant stack of resumes. "There are the 300 people who applied to our ad" some exhausted, disgusted hiring manager says. "And how many resumes did you like?" I ask sweetly. "These three" says the hiring manager.
Often the hiring manager has ruled out anyone who did not follow instructions and provide a cover letter. "If they did not care enough to follow instructions, I'm not interested in them." But of course 297 of 300 people never even got an acknowledgement to their resume, so asking each of them to spend an hour crafting a good cover letter seems a tad unfair. And candidates have long since learned that applying to an ad is a long shot at best. So how does it make any sense that each of them should spend an hour crafting a cover letter that will probably never be read? Basic fairness dictates that you ask for a writing sample only after you are interested in them.
I'm astonished how many companies insist that candidates demonstrate the highest standards of interview decorum, while the employer casually disregards their obligation to do the same.
If you want better candidates, it's best to remove the barriers to applying.
When we reach out to recruit candidates who are not currently looking, all we ask is for them to schedule a phone call with us - easy peasy.
And when we run ads we don't ask for a cover letter. Heck, we don't even require people to apply online (which takes two minutes on our site) - they can simply click a button and email us their resume. Does that create a bit more work for us to upload resumes for people? Yes. Do we have to sent out a few more acknowledgement and rejection letters? Sure. Do we have to plow through a few more bad resumes? You bet. But our ads draw far more highly qualified people than the employers who make candidates jump through hoops.
Which is kind of the whole point of advertising.
If you want better candidates, it's best to add rigor at the end of the interview sequence, not be beginning.