Do You Need a Cover Letter When It's Not Required?

When you do (and don't) need a cover letter to apply for a job

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Do you really need a cover letter if a company doesn't ask for one? Writing a lot of cover letters during a job search is often both challenging and time-consuming. Because of this, it's not surprising that applicants often hesitate to include a cover letter when it is not explicitly required by an employer.

If you're wondering if you should include a cover letter, the short answer is yes. That said, there are a few exceptions.

You should almost always submit a cover letter, even if the company doesn't ask for one. 

Here's what you need to know about the value of cover letters, along with the situations where you can skip a cover letter. 

Why Write a Cover Letter?

If you're serious about landing the job, a well-written cover letter gives you a chance to sell yourself to the employer in a narrative format, and explain why you are an ideal candidate. Taking the time to match your qualifications to the job can help you get selected for an interview.

All of your efforts in the cover letter will help hiring managers do their job of screening applicants, and may get your resume a closer look.

A cover letter also affords you the opportunity to highlight your strongest qualifications.

An effective, well-written, and customized cover letter also makes it clear that you are highly interested in the job. That's because it shows the hiring manager that you want the job enough to go the extra distance.

Reasons to Include a Cover Letter

To Share Extra Information

A cover letter gives you an opportunity to include details that your resume does not contain. For example, if you are applying from a distance, your cover letter will enable you to present a rationale for relocation and to mention that you will be in the area shortly for a possible interview. 

To Explain a Gap

Gaps in employment with reasonable explanations can also be addressed in your letter. A cover letter is also an ideal place to provide specific examples that prove you have the skills and experience listed on your resume.

The Employer May Expect One

Additionally, some employers expect to receive cover letters even though they did not stipulate that a cover letter was required in their job advertisements.

Candidates who don't take the time to compose a letter are often viewed as less motivated for the job.

In many cases, employers won't even look at a job application that doesn't contain a cover letter or letter of interest.

Reasons Not to Include a Cover Letter

For some jobs, you won't need a cover letter to apply. Some employers don't accept cover letters as part of the application process. For other positions, there may be no way to submit one. If a cover letter is optional, it's better to skip it if you don't have the time to compose a well-written one.

When the Employer Doesn't Want One

If the job application instructs that you should not include a cover letter, then it's definitely best to follow directions so as not to annoy your potential employer.

When You Don't Have Time

No letter is much better than a poorly written one. A well-composed cover letter serves as a sample of your writing ability, but the opposite is also true. If you don't have time to write a well-crafted cover letter that pitches your skills and positions you for the job, forego the effort.

In many cases, employers won't even look at a job application that doesn't contain a cover letter or letter of interest.

If the job application instructs that you should not include a cover letter, then it's definitely best to follow directions so as not to annoy your potential employer.

When There's No Way to Submit One

Also, if the company asks you to submit your application through an online platform, and there is no place for you to submit a cover letter, don't worry about it. 

Tips for Writing a Cover Letter That Will Impress

When you do include a cover letter with your resume, it's important to make it a good one. Here are tips for writing a cover letter that will make the best impression and add value to your application.

How to Write a Cover Letter

Kelly Miller. / The Balance

  • Make it targeted. Be sure to compose a targeted letter that is written with the job listing in mind. Focus on the skills and abilities you possess that make you a strong fit for the specific job.
  • Keep it short. Make sure that your letters are concise (no more than one page topping out at five paragraphs) and that every statement you make conveys something significant about your qualifications for the candidacy.
  • Go beyond your resume. Avoid simply repeating your resume. Provide examples not listed in your resume, and expand upon things mentioned only briefly in your resume. Your cover letter should have a distinct purpose regarding your application.
  • Edit, edit, edit. Errors in your cover letter can hurt your chances of getting an interview. Errors make you look sloppy, or worse, not educated. Be sure to thoroughly read your letter before submitting it. Consider asking a friend or colleague to read it as well to check for typos, grammatical errors, and confusing language.

Key Takeaways

  • Writing a cover letter makes the hiring manager's job easier, by highlighting exactly why you're the right match for the role. That gives your application an edge. 
  • Even if the company doesn't specifically request a cover letter, it's a good idea to write one if you're interested in the role at hand. 
  • Skip a cover letter if the employer says not to write one, or if there isn't a place to include one in an online application form.