Should You Always Send a Cover Letter?
You’ve found your ideal job and you start thinking about the job application. What are the most important things to include? A resume is surely the key but what about the cover letter? Do you always need to send a cover letter?
Let’s examine the arguments for and against sending a cover letter, examine the benefits of a cover letter, consider the times when you probably don’t need to send one and the steps to writing the perfect cover letter.
COVER LETTERS ARE NOT QUITE AS RELEVANT ANY LONGER
Let’s start with the arguments against sending a cover letter with your job application. The truth is the world of job applications has changed a lot in recent years. As job applications have moved online, the cover letter has lost some of its power.
In the old days, you would send your job application by post. The cover letter made sense because it would explain to the hiring manager what your application is about and give an insight into you as a candidate. Nowadays, the application is mostly done online through a specific system.
This means you don’t have to explain your application’s purpose in the same way – the hiring manager knows what the information is about.
Furthermore, the digitalization of job applications has introduced the applicant tracking system (ATS). This algorithm checks your resume first and scans it for certain keywords the employer is looking for. Due to formatting, it tends to focus on the resume first. If your resume is not a match, then your cover letter won’t ever be picked because your application is automatically rejected.
For cover letters, this all means they aren’t as relevant any longer. The emphasis has moved to resumes and other elements of the job application – such as questionnaires some employers use as part of the online application process.
Even when applications are sent outside of a specific platform, they tend to be sent digitally via e-mail. In e-mails, the body of the e-mail has become the new cover letter and an extra attachment is often not needed.
In general, if you look at job descriptions and job postings, they don’t often mention cover letters in the list of things you need to send. For many, this is a sign the cover letter is no longer relevant.
But is this true?
COVER LETTERS ARE STILL AN OPPORTUNITY TO GRASP WITH BOTH HANDS
The age of the cover letter is not over. You shouldn’t just ditch the cover letter altogether, as it can present plenty of opportunities for job applicants. You can make your job application better with a winning cover letter.
The key to cover letter’s relevance lies in its definition. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines cover letter as:
“a letter that is sent with something to explain the reason for it or to give more information about it”
Your cover letter is an opportunity to pass on more information and this is important when it comes to judging whether you are the right person for the role or not.
The hiring manager will receive a number of resumes. Since most know you need to format the resume with the job posting in mind (to guarantee the ATS picks it up), the resumes tend to look similar. They will mention the same keywords and they’ll even have similar structures.
So, what sets your job application apart? Of course, the mighty cover letter! You can show personality in the cover letter and dig deeper into your passion for the role and your strengths as a candidate.
Besides, many people are still sending a version of the cover letter anyway. As mentioned above, the e-mail’s body has replaced the cover letter. But this is still essentially a cover letter even though it isn’t the traditional text-file or a written letter.
But the content of this remains exactly that of the cover letter. So even when people think they might not be writing a cover letter, they often are.
So, in many instances, you do want to send your job application with a cover letter intact – even if the employer doesn’t specifically request it. This is purely down to the benefits the cover letter comes with.
THE THREE BENEFITS OF INCLUDING A COVER LETTER TO YOUR APPLICATION
So, as the above shows, the cover letter is still a valuable member of the job application pack. You definitely don’t want to overlook it and it has an important purpose and function during the job application.
There are, essentially, three major benefits to sending a cover letter. These are:
Highlights your strengths, experience and accomplishments in a narrative manner
While the resume is a compact list of your skills and qualifications, the cover letter allows you to tell a story. We humans love stories – they thrill us and they leave us with memories. It’s not hard to understand then how effective it can be to tell your story to the hiring manager.
The cover letter allows you to give actual examples of your experience. You can create a scene in front of the hiring manager and show how you’ve used your talent. You can present your strengths in more detail and in a more compelling way than you can in a resume.
In a more practical sense, you are able to highlight things that might not make it to your resume. Your resume has length constrictions – you can’t add everything to it but you can bring up these important nuggets of information in your cover letter.
Outlines your interest in the role
The resume also doesn’t allow you to show much passion towards the role. It’s just about your skills and qualifications whereas the cover letter is the perfect place to show why you want the job. You can tell the hiring manager what the job would mean to you and what you’d do if hired. It allows you to show passion and excitement.
The simple act of writing a cover letter shows you’re motivated, especially when your cover letter is tailored to the role. Not everyone takes the time to write it anymore and if you do (and you nail the cover letter), then you immediately stand out from the crowd.
Explains things in-depth and answers questions the resume might raise
Overall, the cover letter gives you the platform to explain your work experience and educational background in more detail. Your resume can sometimes raise questions.
Why do you have a gap in employment for three years? Why have you said you attended university but you didn’t graduate? Everyone’s past has things that might look odd when simply listed on a paper. But the cover letter is your chance to explain these little gaps and quirks.
This can be valuable. The hiring manager might have rejected you based on your resume but if you’re able to convince them with the cover letter, you might get a chance to make your case in the job interview.
There’s a lot of power and benefits to cover letter! In fact, Evelyn Salvador, author of Step-by-Step Cover Letters and principal of Creative Image Builders, told Monster, “Skip the cover letter, and you miss out on an opportunity to sell yourself”.
THERE ARE A FEW OCCASIONS WHEN A COVER LETTER SHOULD NOT BE SENT
With that in mind, there are a few instances when the cover letter is not worth it. The cover letter shouldn’t be an automatic addition to the job application and you definitely want to avoid it if:
- You are specifically told not to send it. If the job posting says in big bright letters they don’t want a cover letter, then don’t go and send it. It’s always important to follow the instructions to the letter – don’t start adding things just because you think they are worth it. Similarly, you always want to include a cover letter if the job posting specifically asks for it. On the other hand, if you’re not told either way, then you can always include the cover letter.
The instructions are not just guidance to help you send a good job application. They can sometimes be part of the test – your inability to follow the employer’s instructions tells you’re either not paying attention or you don’t care what the authority says. Not very good characteristics, right?
- There isn’t a way to send it. Now, you might also need to apply through a special online application and this might limit the things you can send. You might need to apply directly on a platform with no space to upload your own file or the upload system might only state it’s for resumes. In these instances, you don’t want to start messing up the automatic system by including your own files.
- You’d be sending duplicates. You don’t want to make the mistake of typing a cover letter style introduction to your e-mail and then include an actual cover letter as well. It’s important to not duplicate cover letters but to stick to a single cover letter per the application.
In terms of the last point, you have two options. The first option is to use the e-mail’s body as your cover letter and to simply avoid including the resume as an attachment. This is actually common now in the era of digital applications. If you prefer to attach the cover letter as an attachment, then don’t write a lengthy e-mail body. You can simply state something along the lines of:
“Dear (hiring manager), I’m sending you my job application for the position of (job title). Please find my cover letter and resume attached to the e-mail.”
So, make sure you always follow the instructions. You don’t want to force a cover letter down the throat of the hiring manager if they really don’t want it. But just because they don’t specifically ask for it, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t send it either!
THE TOP TIPS FOR WRITING A COVER LETTER
Of course, the most important thing is to ensure your cover letter is top-notch when you do send it. If you don’t pay any attention to your cover letter and just scribble down a few words, it might have turned out better not to send one.
In the end, the substance matters more and not whether you attach it or not to your application.
So, you want to learn the secrets of writing a cover letter. You can find plenty of tips from this post here. But as general tips, you should focus on these three steps to writing a successful cover letter:
- Tailor the cover letter to the job position. Always tailor your cover letter to fit the job position and the potential employer. You need to make sure you emphasize the skills and qualifications that would serve you the best in this specific position. Research the job posting and the company well before you start writing your cover letter.
Make sure to also compare your cover letter with the resume you’re sending. You want to make them supportive but different from each other. You don’t want to repeat everything you’ve said in the resume in your cover letter.
- Keep it short. Your cover letter shouldn’t be your life’s story. It can’t read like a novel – the hiring manager’s attention span is famously fickle. A successful cover letter is concise and has around three to five paragraphs.
- Proofread and edit your cover letter well. Perhaps the most important thing is to ensure your cover letter is error-free. Ensure all the details, dates and other such information are correct. Never lie in your job application, including the cover letter! You can polish your image but don’t claim to be a great public speaker if you can’t do it at all.
Proofread the cover letter multiple times to remove any grammar mistakes you might have made. It’s a good idea to have another person read it as well – it can give you insight into the effectiveness of the message and a fresh pair of eyes can often spot errors you might have missed.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The cover letter might have lost some of its importance to technology but it isn’t irrelevant. It’s a great way to market yourself further – it allows you to tell your story and it shows passion towards the role. It’s another tool for showing the employer why you’d be such a great pick.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you always have to send it or that you can just whip up a cover letter on the go. A successful cover letter is tailored and well-written – you need to take the time to learn the secrets of a good cover letter to ensure that when you attach it to your application, you are benefitting from it and not being dragged down.
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