You’ve found an opening for a role that you’re confident is a perfect fit for you. Your resume is polished and ready to go, and now you’re faced with a crucial decision: cover letter—yes or no?
You may be wondering if cover letters are necessary these days. After all, your resume explains most if not all of your work history. What else could an employer need?
Well, like many things, it depends! Sometimes cover letters are necessary, and sometimes they’re not. Here’s how to figure things out!
Are Cover Letters Really Necessary?
In general, yes! While there are a few times you won’t include a cover letter with your resume, more often than not, the hiring manager expects one—even if they never read it. Because it’s still expected, including a cover letter demonstrates that you’re a true professional that’s serious about the job.
Why Cover Letters Still Matter
Tailoring your cover letter to the job and role you’re applying for takes time but is well worth the effort. Here’s why cover letters still matter!
Expands Your Resume
Your resume is a one to two-page summary of your skills and experience. And because your resume is a summary, you probably can’t include everything you want to share with the employer.
Think of the cover letter as a bonus resume page. It’s an excellent opportunity to sell yourself by highlighting accomplishments that didn’t fit on your resume. You can also include additional keywords from the job posting that could help your resume rank higher in the applicant tracking system (ATS).
Gives Your Resume Context
While your resume is a brief, concise, and clear summary of your professional history, sometimes you need to explain certain aspects of it. For example, if you have gaps in your employment history or are changing careers, your resume may not make sense to the hiring manager.
That’s where your cover letter comes in! It can give your application context when your resume alone can’t—like when your work history is in accounting, and now you’re applying for a social worker role. Your resume can’t explain what motivated your change and what you’ve done to prepare for it, but your cover letter can.
Showcases Soft Skills
Hard skills are often required for some jobs, but employers are always looking for applicants with soft skills. And while you can include a bullet point on your resume about your communication skills, your cover letter is the perfect place to demonstrate your written communication skills!
You can also use the STAR method to describe how you’ve used your other soft skills in past roles. This can help the employer understand how your soft skills will help you excel in the role.
When You Shouldn’t Include a Cover Letter
Cover letters aren’t necessary for every application, though. Here’s when you should skip it.
When the Posting Says So
Some job postings specifically say “no cover letter.” If that’s the case, don’t include it. If nothing else, not adding a cover letter demonstrates that you read the entire job posting and can follow instructions.
Including one could make it appear that you’re “sneaking” something in or are trying to stand out by not following the instructions. While this could work in rare cases, it’s unlikely, so you’re better off spending your time customizing your resume to the role.
When There’s No Place for It
Many employers rely on an ATS to gather, sort, and rank applications. Employers can customize the settings, so some include a separate field for your cover letter, but some do not.
When you see a field for a cover letter, you should include one, especially when it says cover letters are optional! But what happens if there’s no field for a cover letter and the job posting doesn’t specify that you shouldn’t include one?
Start by double-checking the job posting to see if cover letters are optional or required and how to submit one. Sometimes that information is buried in the posting. Then, double-check the entire page to see if the cover letter field is at the very bottom of the page or on a sidebar.
If you cannot find a cover letter field and the job posting doesn’t give specifics about a cover letter, think about whether or not it’s worth the time and effort to create one.
Consider how large the company is. If it’s the kind of place that likely gets hundreds or even thousands of applications for a single role, you can probably skip the cover letter. It’s possible hiring managers don’t bother reading cover letters, and you’d be wasting your time creating one—the thought being that if the hiring manager truly wanted one, there’d be a cover letter field.
However, if you feel it’s necessary to include a cover letter for whatever reason and the posting doesn’t say not to include one, make the cover letter the last page of your resume file. This ensures that the ATS parses (as in, reads) your resume correctly and ranks your application accordingly.
More often than not, you should include a cover letter with your application. It can demonstrate that you’re serious about the role and is a fantastic way to sell your skills and abilities outside your resume.
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