Many things have changed in the last twenty years in regards to applying for jobs. First of all, no one looks in the newspaper for open positions. It’s not about going to a cocktail party with your uncle and being introduced to big wigs. No, it’s all about the online relationship you can develop. People use LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to make connections and look for career opportunities nowadays. But what about the actual application itself?

While the resume seems to be a mainstay (though becoming increasingly more digitized with sites like, the cover letter is practically dead. Instead, companies are looking for ways for potential employees to flex their creative skills. They’re testing them with practical, everyday problems in order to see how they would respond (and if they would flourish). By testing, employers are given a much better idea of how potential employees will work in the environment and in the industry.

Apple and Google have been giving actual tests to their employees for awhile now. Many of the questions are designed to test creative and cognitive thinking skills. Some of the questions, you’d have to be a practical genius to answer. But what about taking this practice and applying it on a smaller scale? Don’t just ask your employees what they’ve done. Give them a situation and ask what they will do.

Here’s an example. You have a great looking applicant for your in-house marketing team. She has had two years experience working at a digital marketing firm and seems to be a good fit personality-wise for your team. Now, what kinds of questions can you ask to enlighten you about her ability to handle stress, multi-task or come up with innovative ideas? Basically, you can ask and listen to her straight-forward but rehearsed answers (after all, if she wants the job, she likely did her homework). But what if you approach this situation from another angle. Give your potential marketer a problem. It can even be a true one that your company faces.

How might you, Applicant A, grow our Facebook community 200% by the end of the year using only organic means?

How might you, Applicant B, optimize our paid search campaign of client A who has decreased their budget for next year?

How might you, Applicant C, use content marketing to develop a sustained readership of our company blog?

Of course, you may not be able to ask these things in an on-the-spot interview and receive the answers you wish to. Instead, you can invite the applicant to submit ideas in lieu of a cover letter. It will give you a better idea of how the applicants think, what they’re capable of and what strengths they will bring to the team. It also may give you insight as to what team they might be best on (even if that means it’s not the position they’re applying for). If they’re recycling old ideas and are not progressive thinkers, then you can move on quickly. The answers to these problems will certainly tell you more about their enthusiasm and strengths than any cover letter ever could.