Is a cover letter necessary?
For many job seekers, seeing a note that reads “cover letter (optional)” can be confusing. Should I include a cover letter if it’s not technically required? Will it improve my application if I include one? And what’s the point of a cover letter if it contains similar information to my resume?
Ultimately, a cover letter is necessary if:
- the job you’re applying for requires one,
- someone has recommended you for the position,
- or you want to provide information not included in your resume.
In these cases, a cover letter boosts your chances of getting an interview by providing important context that your resume alone can’t communicate.
In other cases where a cover letter is optional, including one is still a good idea. A good cover letter makes you look like a better candidate, and gives you an extra opportunity to impress the hiring manager.
When not to include a cover letter
There are two scenarios where leaving a cover letter out of your application is a better option:
You don’t have time to write a good one
No cover letter is still better than a poorly written one. For hiring managers, your cover letter serves as an introduction to your writing ability and attention to detail.
The best cover letter strengthens your application and convinces the hiring manager of your qualifications. A hastily written one, on the other hand, can ruin your chances of getting an interview.
If you’re in a rush to submit your application and don’t have time to write a thoughtful, carefully edited cover letter, it’s better to go without it.
The job listing instructs you not to include a cover letter
If the job listing specifically states not to include a cover letter, leave it out of your application. Including one could irritate the hiring manager, because it shows that you didn’t carefully read the instructions.
Why is a cover letter important?
If you’re serious about getting a job, writing a convincing cover letter is essential. Here’s why taking the time to write a cover letter (even when it’s optional) is always worth it:
Cover letters provide an opportunity to demonstrate your strengths
Your cover letter is a good place to explain the qualifications and accomplishments on your resume, and make a case for why you’re the right hire.
For instance, if the company you’re applying to is looking for candidates with a specific skill set, use the body of your cover letter to highlight your expertise in these areas.
You can explain issues with your resume
Have gaps in your employment history? Changing careers? Your cover letter is the perfect opportunity to clear up potential issues with your application.
A well-written career change cover letter or relocation cover letter not only improves your application, but reassures employers that they don’t have to worry about any issues they found on your resume.
You can make a case for yourself
Your resume is the core of your application, but it can’t do everything. Your cover letter gives you the space to demonstrate your qualifications outside of traditional experience.
For example, every company values passionate, engaged employees. Your cover letter is a great chance to show hiring managers your passion for a career path, or your excitement about the company. This is especially important for candidates writing an entry level cover letter, or anyone who has minimal work experience.
Cover letter writing tips
Now that you know how necessary a cover letter is, here are three tips to help you learn how to write a great cover letter:
1. Target the company
One of the best ways to make your cover letter stand out is to write it for the position you want to fill.
Read through the job listing carefully and look for any required or desirable skills and qualities. Then, be sure to mention some of these skills in your cover letter. This will help you catch the hiring manager’s attention and make you look perfect for the role.
2. Focus on your achievements
Did you exceed a sales goal? Increase revenue? Find a creative solution to a problem?
Highlight some of your most notable achievements in your cover letter to show hiring managers what you’re capable of accomplishing. Be sure to back up your claims with numbers to illustrate the impact you made.
For example, here’s how a sales associate could highlight their achievements:
“While at my previous company I implemented a new cold call strategy, increasing the close ratio by 13% on telephone sales within 5 months.”
3. Show your excitement
Employers love candidates who are excited about their work. Employees who are genuinely interested in what they’re doing are more likely to perform better and make greater long-term contributions to the company.
To catch any hiring manager’s attention, use your cover letter to demonstrate that your passions align with the responsibilities associated with the role.
Do I need a cover letter?
Although many recruiters don’t give cover letters the attention they deserve, a strong cover letter provides an edge over the candidates who decide not to submit one.
So if you have the option to submit a cover letter, then yes, including a cover letter is necessary.