There’s no doubt the job market has changed dramatically in the last few years, and for a myriad of reasons. Between the shift to more remote work, “quiet quitting,” and the “Great Reshuffle,” some traditional methods of recruiting and job-seeking have fallen by the wayside. When you’re knee-deep in job applications, interviews, and scouring job postings, one question that may come to mind is, “Are cover letters really still necessary?”
That’s a very good question.
In this article, we’ll take a look at cover letters, and answer whether they’re still necessary in today’s job market.
Here’s what we’ll discuss:
Is a cover letter really necessary?
Will my cover letter actually be read?
When not to include a cover letter
When you should go the extra mile with your cover letter
What a strong cover letter can do for you
Do I really need a cover letter?
Short answer? Yes — usually. Although there are a few exceptions, you should include a cover letter with your resume, even if it isn’t required. You may think that it would be easier to skip it, but a cover letter affords you the opportunity to explain details about your job history that are not in your resume. If you’re looking to relocate, change careers, or need to explain a gap in your employment, a cover letter is vital.
Most positions, however, do require a cover letter to be submitted along with your resume. If nothing else, a well-crafted cover letter can tip the scales in your favor. Think about it — if a recruiter is on the fence between two candidates, he or she would probably go with the one with the thoughtful, well-crafted cover letter. It shows that you’re taking the job opportunity seriously, and are willing to put in the extra work to stand out.
Additionally, including a cover letter actually makes the hiring manager’s job easier. A good cover letter underscores your skills, education, and experience, and emphasizes why you’re a good match for the role. It allows you to “sell yourself,” in a personalized (but still professional) format, highlighting your qualifications and how they align with the job requirements.
According to a recent study on employer preferences, 56% prefer to receive a cover letter. And 40% of HR managers say a cover letter is more likely to make them pay attention to a job application, per Career Builder’s annual survey.
Will my cover letter actually be read?
In all honesty, maybe, maybe not. But — and this is important — you should include one anyway (unless the posting specifically says not to). Many recruiters do read them, but even if they don’t, a cover letter shows your motivation and that you are committed to proving that you’re the best candidate for the position.
Whether or not it gets read may also be dependent on your resume. Hiring managers will often look over your resume first to ensure you have the proper skills and experience, and, if you do, then they’ll take a look at your cover letter. But placement comes into play here, as well — if your cover letter is included in the body of an email (if that’s what the company requests) the employer is likely to skim through it before reading your resume.
Also, if you’re working with a recruiter, they might pass along your information to an employer, and they may use the cover letter to screen out or vet potential candidates. So, there’s a good chance your cover letter will get read somewhere along the line. Ultimately, it’s a bit of a contradiction: employers may not read cover letters, but most still say they want them.
Include a cover letter, even if they’re not required.
Forgo an opportunity to set yourself apart from the crowd — only 47% of applicants include a cover letter.
Make sure the cover letter highlights your relevant experience
Copy sections from your resume word-for-word.
Should I include a cover letter: when to go the extra mile
Obviously, your cover letter should be clear, concise, contain no spelling errors or typos, and should highlight your relevant work experience and skills. But there are times when you should go “above and beyond” when crafting your cover letter.
You have a professional connection or referral
If someone has recommended you for the job or referred you to the company, the cover letter is the place to mention it. If you know someone in the management chain or someone who had an internship at that company, include that as well. These can add extra weight to your application, so they’re important items to include.
It’s the job of your dreams
Without being too personal or sentimental, use your cover letter to express what the job means to you. Show that you’ve thoroughly researched the company and its values, mission statements, and goals, and mention their importance to your future career.
According to Debby Carreau, founder of Inspired HR, if you’re going to take the time to write a heartfelt and detailed cover letter, “do everything in your power to email it directly to the hiring manager, so it doesn’t get lost alongside hundreds or even thousands of other applicants in the automated applicant tracking system.”
You want to add additional information
Your cover letter is the perfect opportunity to explain important information that adds value to your application but isn’t on your resume, such as wanting to relocate, a gap in your career timeline, or a career change. A hiring manager can refer to the cover letter to gain context about these instances instead of just tossing it in the literal or desktop trash bin.
Resources pro Susan Heathfield says, “Your cover letter is particularly important. It’s the job searcher’s opportunity to help the potential employer see that the applicant's skills and experience match what the employer seeks. A well-written cover letter distinguishes your application.”
When not to include a cover letter
Although you should include a cover letter for most job applications, there are a few instances when you should not submit one.
The company doesn’t want one
Sometimes, a job posting will specifically say not to include a cover letter. So what should you do? Don’t include one. In this case, submitting a cover letter will not make you look dedicated — it will show that you can’t follow directions.
There’s no option on the application platform
If you’re applying for a job online, you may not be able to find an option to submit a cover letter. Take that as a sign that they don’t want to receive them and skip it.
You can’t get it right
A bad cover letter is worse than no cover letter at all. This means letters that aren’t customized or are generic templates intended to be sent en masse to potential employers. It can also mean cover letters that are poorly worded, contain misspellings, or are addressed to the wrong recipient. This can make you appear careless, or that you are not serious about the job.
There’s really no excuse for writing a poor cover letter. We can help! Please check out our blog on Career.io for more insight on how to write and format an outstanding cover letter that will get you noticed.
What can a strong cover letter do for you?
Unless the company specifically states not to send one, a cover letter can be a strong addition to your job-seeking toolbox. Far more than a “to whom it may concern” letter, a well-thought-out cover letter can help you stand out as a viable job candidate and increase your chances of getting an interview.
Explain why you’re the top choice for the job
Including a cover letter, even if it’s not required, can make a good impression. Resumes give an overview of your career, but a cover letter can tell a story and make a case for you as a candidate. Plus, including a cover letter shows that you are serious about the position and would be a motivated, detail-oriented employee.
Show your personality
A well-written, engaging cover letter will not only highlight your qualifications but share a little bit of your personality. Striking the right balance between being professional and “too personal” is important, and everything in the cover letter should show a prospective employer what makes you an ideal job candidate.
A good way to show off your personality is to tailor your letter to each individual company. There are a number of ways to accomplish this:
Include keywords from the job posting in your cover letter.
Make a reference to the company itself, such as a success they’ve had recently, or what specifically attracts you to the company.
Send your letter to an individual person, if possible.
Show your creativity
Avoid using clichés or overused phrases. Instead of saying you’re a “go-getter,” give an example of a time you took initiative at your current job. Or, replace “thinking outside the box” with an “action verb” such as “created” or “developed.”
Other phrases to avoid include:
Best of Breed
Recruiters and hiring managers have seen these types of phrases many times, and after a while, they start to lose real meaning. Instead, utilize specific examples of what you accomplished in your previous positions. Highlighting accomplishments and results in your cover letter that closely align with the job you want will increase your chances of getting the interview.
Show that you fit in
A strong, personalized cover letter will underscore your qualifications, and also demonstrate that you can fit in with the established company culture. Do your research, and find examples of how you’re a good fit for the company. For example, if they have a lot of community involvement, mention any volunteer work you’ve done on your own time. Or if the company website shows a sense of humor or irreverence, feel free to include a bit of that in your cover letter, if it feels natural.
Remember, your cover letter can be considered your “calling card.” The whole purpose is to introduce yourself to the hiring manager and highlight your suitability for the position. While you want to keep it brief (one page, 350 words, maximum), relevant, and professional, you should ensure that your cover letter answers three main questions:
Why are you applying for the position?
How do your skills and past experience make you the best choice for the role?
Why are you a good fit for the company?
While you might think that cover letters are outdated in today’s job market, the reality is that they are still an important part of the recruiting process, and a unique, professional, well-written one can make you stand out from the crowd and increase your chances of getting an interview.
A well-crafted cover letter is necessary and can tip the scales in your favor, and should be included with your resume unless specifically stated otherwise.
Include a cover letter, even if it’s not specifically requested. It can show your enthusiasm and seriousness about the position.
There are times to “go the extra mile” and craft a more detailed cover letter.
Don’t include a cover letter if the company doesn’t want one, or if there’s no place on an online application to submit it.
A strong cover letter can show off your personality, your creativity, and your ability to fit into the company’s overall culture.