Is a cover letter necessary?
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.
But for many job seekers, seeing a note that reads “cover letter (optional)” can still be confusing. Should I include a cover letter if it’s not technically required? Will it boost my chances if I include one?
We’re going to answer all your questions about when to use a cover letter (and when not to use one).
When cover letters are necessary
You should always submit a cover letter if:
1. The job requires a cover letter
If the job description requests a cover letter, then a cover letter is necessary. The same applies if a recruiter requests one, or if you see it brought up at some point during the application process.
Remember that your cover letter is likely the first time you get to introduce yourself to a potential employer. Make sure you know how to start a cover letter so you can set the tone for the rest of your application.
2. Someone has recommended you for the job
Were you recommended for the position, or know someone currently working at the company who would put in a good word for you? Your cover letter is the place to establish this relationship.
Add a sentence or two in your cover letter introduction confirming that your contact tipped you off about the job opportunity. This lets the hiring manager know to take your application seriously.
3. If you want to provide information not included in your resume
If you have employment gaps, non-traditional work experience, or are changing careers, your resume alone may not be enough to highlight your qualifications.
That’s where a convincing cover letter comes in. Your cover letter is a great opportunity to supplement your resume and explain why you’d be qualified for a position — even if your work experience is less than ideal.
For example, if you’re changing careers, submitting a strong career change cover letter with your resume is a great way to emphasize your broader qualifications, and convince the hiring manager that you’re worth taking a chance on.
When to not include a cover letter
Most of the time, if you’re asked to write a cover letter, you should write one. However, there are two scenarios where leaving a cover letter out of your application is a better option:
1. 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.
A well-written cover letter strengthens your application and convinces the hiring manager of your qualifications. A hastily written one, on the other hand, can single-handedly sink your chances of getting an interview.
For example, here’s one candidate who would have been better off not submitting a cover letter at all:
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 one.
2. The job listing says to not 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.
How Important is a Cover Letter?
A recent study found only 26% of recruiters consider cover letters important when deciding whether to hire a candidate.
So now you’re probably thinking: if so few recruiters value them, is a cover letter important? Can’t I just forego one and save myself the time?
Not so fast.
This data doesn’t tell the whole story. While some recruiters may not read your cover letter, other people involved in the hiring process likely will.
For many companies, the hiring manager is only the first step in the hiring process. They search through the applicant pool and filter out unqualified candidates. Then, the remaining applicants are reviewed in greater detail by other employees.
This is where having a strong cover letter is important if you want to impress your potential employer.
Not only that, but including a cover letter with your application demonstrates you’re serious about the position, and provides context that you can’t communicate with your resume.
Additionally, a cover letter is important if you need to explain gaps on your resume or are applying for entry-level positions or an internship. A well-written cover letter is an ideal supplement to your resume, and is crucial in proving you’re the best candidate for the job.
In short: cover letters do matter.
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.