Cover Letters in the Design Industry

over 7 years ago from , Ui/Ux Designer, Illustrator, Ponderer

If there is one thing that ive heard time and time again, is the absolute dislike in the topic of the cover letter. At one point these may have been good indicator to a potential employee, but does that still stand true especially in the design industry where portfolio is king. Are they still worth writing or are they a relic of an old job process? Wanted to see what your opinions would be applicant vs employer, and how much weight do you think it has in the job application process.


  • Dan SherrattDan Sherratt, over 7 years ago

    I think it absolutely still stands true, as an employer I've blitzed through more than a hundred applicants in a few days before, and once you get an eye for it you can absolutely tell if the person wants THAT job, or just A job. Portfolio is whether or not you'll get an interview, cover letter could be whether or not I even look at your portfolio.

    19 points
  • Joel CalifaJoel Califa, over 7 years ago

    A great, relevant cover letter can make me think twice even about weak candidates—think what it can do for strong ones.

    4 points
  • Chris CChris C, over 7 years ago

    When I was looking I would write one even if it wasn't a requirement. Of course I had the luxury of only applying to places I really wanted to work so it made it super easy to express why I wanted to work there. I can see how it might be harder for someone that's under pressure to get a job because they are in a bad financial situation and need a job quick.

    I'm a firm believer in pursuing things in life that you're very interested in and that excite you. You should be thrilled to tell someone why you want to work with them and their company. It's not about proving that you should have a seat at the table which is what a lot of people feel and take offense to.

    Secondly, when I was hiring designers I would almost always filter them by cover letter first. It's very important that someone communicates well and that they have passion and believe in the work they'll be doing.

    A silly side note: I announce that I have dribbble invitations every now and then and tell people if they want one to send me a link to their online portfolio, a link to their dribbble URL, and a quick message. I can't tell you how many people address me by the wrong name or just send me their behance link with just the text "thanks". Immediately deleted from my inbox in most cases when someone can't even follow simple instructions or care enough to send a quick note aside from "thanks."

    4 points
  • Nelson TarucNelson Taruc, over 7 years ago

    I believe a unique well-written cover letter is more important than ever to make you stand out in a crowd of applicants.

    A portfolio may show your skill and highlight your accomplishments, but it doesn't tell your story -- and more importantly, how your story maps to the needs of the company you want to work at.

    Gareth, if it makes you feel better, as a rule of thumb, I never send my portfolio or resume when applying. I'm sort of in the same boat because a lot of my design work comprises bleeding-edge proof-of-concepts and prototypes I can't put online without getting in big trouble.

    If a company won't consider a candidate on just the cover letter alone (they can find more about me with a simple Google search), then my story sucks or they're too lazy to bother digging deeper. In either case, I'm not a good fit for that company. I can live with that.

    4 points
  • Ferdi WielingFerdi Wieling, over 7 years ago

    I go through a boat load of CVs and portfolios on a weekly basis, and whilst I've never dismissed a good portfolio on the lack of a cover letter, I have dismissed a good portfolio on a really generic/bad cover letter.

    That may sound like an argument in favour of omitting one, but when done well, it really sets you apart from the crowd and explains to your potential future employer why they should interview you. It allows you to project your excitement onto your future employer and sets the tone for any following interview.

    Having said that, the worst thing you can do is grab a cover letter template and fling in carbon copy boilerplate stuff that pretty much summarises your (attached) CV. That's not what a cover letter is for. Personally (other people may have different priorities) what I look for in a cover letter are:

    • Why do you want to work here (and not somewhere else).
    • What do you bring to the table that no one else does and how is that going to allow you to excel at this job.
    • Things that aren't in your CV or portfolio, but are relevant to the particular job at hand.

    The more senior the position, the more important it is all of these are in. In summary, if more than 25% of your cover letter can be reused for any other job, you need to consider rewriting it.

    Lastly - it's a cover letter, not an essay. Printed, it shouldn't be more than one page, this includes letter head and sign-off. In the age of email, more than 3-4 paragraphs start to feel more like a hard sell.

    Hope this helps!

    3 points
    • Katarina Rdultovskaia, over 7 years ago

      Really great feedback! Its always interesting to see what kind of things industry people expect from cover letters, and I feel like its not talked about enough especially with young designers.

      1 point
  • James Young, over 7 years ago

    I would expect one, even if it's a reasonably short letter/email to accompany a portfolio or CV.

    A portfolio tells me a bit about what you're capable of but it does nothing to tell me how you see yourself fitting into the team or why you feel you're worth the time of checking out said folio.

    Doesn't have to be a long formal letter but some indication that you've researched my company and team is expected in the same way I would spend time researching you.

    Just mailing a link to a folio or Github is lazy.

    2 points
  • Gareth LewisGareth Lewis, over 7 years ago

    I've just applied for a job as a UX Designer, which required a covering letter (although this was called a Statement of Suitability). My background is in UI development and design... But I haven't got a portfolio. Everything (mostly) I've worked on has been secured with a login and contains sensitive information which makes it difficult to put a portfolio together. However, I feel I'm suitable for the job.

    Is design more than a portfolio? Sure, you can see how good someone is at visual design, but what about the research and justifications that go with some of the design decisions?

    Is a portfolio a must have? And would anyone here even consider hiring (or even interviewing someone without a portfolio? For my sake, I hope so!

    2 points
    • Katarina Rdultovskaia, over 7 years ago (edited over 7 years ago )

      I think depending on the field actual portfolio may be optional, but does a cover letter alone carry you into the actual interview process? Ive been on both sides of the equation hiring and also applying for jobs, and the majority of cover letters that I have reviewed are pretty similar to each other for the most part. I find cover letters to be a nicely researched couple of sentences, but they all seem to be saying more or less the same thing. Is it really a effective way to understand who that person is and how he/she works and their capabilities?

      Its an interesting topic, and I feel like it needs a revamp, thanks for your input.

      0 points
    • John PJohn P, over 7 years ago

      How can they judge your research and justifications without putting them into some sort of portfolio?

      A portfolio doesn't just have to be a button and icon parade, there is a little thing called a Case Study....

      Definitely feeling the UX crowd have a smugness of being "above a portfolio" then you go to their sites and it's just an elaborate business card (the conversational UIs posted here recently come to mind).

      2 points
  • Katarina Rdultovskaia, over 7 years ago

    Thanks everyone for your input! It seems that cover letter are still invaluable to the hiring process from your comments. Recently ive seen a lot of employers (typically large design agencies, consultancies, or product companies) not even have a space to add a cover letter, especially when applying online rather then through email (specifically design fields: Ui, Visual, ect.) I found it rather curious, and was wondering if there may have been some new logic that had recently been accepted when hiring new talent.

    1 point
    • Juan F. MenaJuan F. Mena, over 7 years ago

      It's good to see that the responses here helped you with that. Cover letters are really important. If a company is not asking for one, then be proactive and write one, describe why you want the opportunity to work there, it's a chance stand out from other applicants, specially in this form of describing something in a brief, honest & creative way.

      0 points
    • Jrtorrents Dorman , over 7 years ago

      If they don't provide a way to add motivation but you still want to add one . Simply type in your motivation in word or pages, save it as a pdf. Drag and drop it i to your CV or portfolio pdf and send it as a single document.

      0 points
  • Braden HammBraden Hamm, over 7 years ago

    I only don't like doing them because it takes time and stress to make them good, because they ARE valuable.

    1 point
  • Murat MutluMurat Mutlu, over 7 years ago

    I personally like them, should be short and sweet but it's a good way to stand out

    1 point
  • Jrtorrents Dorman , over 7 years ago

    I've been looking for a job myself (I've found one) and I have to say that cover letters don't really matter. Perhaps it has something to do with culture, location etc (I live in Amsterdam).

    About 3 three years ago when I was looking for a job after school I had a pretty hard time even getting interviews but this time around I have a success rate of a out 80-90%.

    I use a pretty generic cover letter which I use for most of my applications. In it, I state;

    • How excited I am about the position
    • where I found the vacancy
    • some of the projects I've recently worked on and how it can be relevant to the position.

    It's a fairly generic but that is because most job adverts are also very generic. If I see a very well thought out and written advert I make an effort of matching it with a more persnal motivation letter.

    For a design position I think the most important thing is a well presented portfolio (possibly a case study) and a good CV can get you an interview.

    That said it all depends on the type of company. If you're apply to Startup or a small product company, it's much more personal so perhaps a cover letter might be important. They also want to know how can help them or their product so it's important to take that into consideration.

    If you're applying to a big company with several layers bureaucracy, they care more about your CV than a cover letter or Portfolio. Also be prepared for phone interview, competency tests etc

    If it's an agency they care more about style, process, embelishment and presentation. (just make sh**t about emotion bla bla bla) In this case a more personal motivation and neatly presented portfolio oulining process will be in order. They only care about your CV if you have some big brands in there.

    Long story short, A portfolio and a well presented CV is more important than a cover letter.

    0 points
  • Marvin Hagemeister, over 7 years ago

    I agree that your portfolio is the most important aspect of any application. Personally I never wrote a cover letter that was longer than 5 sentences. Easiest way to get into the door is to know what problems the company has, what you can do to improve it.

    0 points
  • Chong GuoChong Guo, over 7 years ago

    I'll say that cover letter/or a short note would be a great thing to explain the so call "fit," especially for newbies. The key reason here is that there're too many types of business. For example, a company that runs its business in data visualization could look for candidates with data viz. Cover letter could help you explain that in detail if you've taken classes from school. Without the cover letter, it will be a single keyword in your resume.

    0 points