Do you really need a cover letter when you apply for jobs? You might wonder whether you can get by with just a resume — particularly if the company doesn't specifically request or require a cover letter.
It's only natural to wonder if a cover letter is necessary. After all, writing cover letters can be a time-consuming and challenging task. If there's an option to skip the labor involved in writing one, it's tempting.
But in most cases, and particularly when the overall job market or your specific industry is competitive, a cover letter will help your candidacy. Done right, your letter will highlight your most relevant skills and qualifications for the job, making you stand out in a sea of applicants.
Your cover letter is a good way to show an employer what you want them to know about you, without the hiring manager having to figure it out themselves from your resume.
(Almost) Always Send a Cover Letter
Many career experts agree that sending a cover letter is almost always the best decision.
Use Your Letter to Make a Match
For instance, Susan Heathfield, a human resources expert, 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."
Show Why You're a Strong Candidate
A cover letter can make a good impression on a prospective employer and is an excellent way to show that employer why you are a strong candidate for the job. Resumes are helpful for giving an overview of your career, but a cover letter can tell a story about specific, relevant experience. They're also a chance to show off your personality.
Explain Potential Issues
Cover letters also provide a useful way to explain away any potential concerns the employer might have about your candidacy, such as gaps in your employment or the fact that you will need to relocate for the job.
Make the Case for Your Candidacy
A cover letter allows you to write a compelling case for your candidacy. Why would you want to skip this opportunity? Even if a job application does not require a cover letter, you can send one anyway.
Often, employers expect a cover letter even if they do not directly ask for one. Sending one, particularly when it is not required, demonstrates that you are a motivated candidate.
Cover letters allow you—in narrative form—to tell the employer exactly why hiring you, instead of the numerous other candidates, is a good decision.
When Not to Send a Cover Letter
If you're applying online for a job and there is no way to upload or post a cover letter, don't worry about it. You don't need one.
When the employer specifically states what they want in a job application (resume, references, etc.), you don't have to write a cover letter if it is not included on the employer's list.
However, you may want to include an abbreviated email cover letter if there’s space to do so. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to make your pitch and impress the hiring manager.
Cover Letter Writing Tips
Make sure your cover letter is a good one. While a well-written cover letter may increase your chances of getting an interview, the opposite is also true. A poorly written cover letter will likely cause an employer to reject your application. Therefore, only send one if you have the time to write a clear, concise, and professional letter that makes a strong sales pitch for getting an interview.
Write a targeted cover letter that specifically relates your experience to the job posting. Keep it short and sweet — aim for three to five paragraphs — with each paragraph focusing on an aspect of your candidacy. Read the job description carefully, so you can make sure your cover letter really speaks to the requested qualifications. Bottom line, you want to make it clear why you'd be beneficial to the company in the position.
Review cover letter samples. Before you start, look at some cover letter examples to get ideas for your own letters. While you don’t want to copy samples, reading them helps reveal what kind of tone is appropriate. Plus, you might discover a better way to emphasize your experience.
How to Format the Letter
Format your cover letter correctly. Familiarize yourself with cover lettering formatting guidelines and make sure that your materials meet these standards. Hiring managers will notice if you don’t follow these rules.
You want your experience to stand out, not your formatting or style choices. Keep it simple and let your skills shine through.
Proofread and Test Before You Submit
Be sure to edit your cover letter thoroughly. Typos and grammatical errors will demonstrate a sloppy work ethic to the employer. Review proofreading tips to remind yourself of what to watch out for. A few examples of common cover letter typos and mistakes: misspelled names of companies or interviewers, incorrect addresses, and inconsistent verb tenses and/or punctuation.
When you’re finished reviewing your final document, have a friend take a look as well. A fresh set of eyes may catch mistakes that you’re no longer able to see. Even the smallest error can work against you during the job application process, so take the time to get it right.