Do you really need a cover letter?
You likely have parts of a job search that you enjoy, such as networking, but you also probably dislike many parts of the process. If we were placing bets on it, I would bet that cover letters fall into the latter category. Very few people have ever told me they enjoy writing cover letters.
Perhaps one of the worst aspects of writing cover letters is the fact that many people argue over their value. A quick Google search will reveal many results from people claiming cover letters are read by only a sliver of recruiters and hiring managers. Then, you’ll find plenty of results from people saying the letters can give job seekers an edge among a sea of other applicants.
The truth is that some recruiters and hiring managers read cover letters, but some flip right to your resume. You likely don’t know which approach the people hiring for the position you want will take. As a result, you should take the time to write a cover letter whenever possible.
“I think the cover letter can be really lucrative to someone who really wants to get their foot in the door at a target company or for a position they’ve been gunning for,” said Wendi Weiner, who is a personal branding and career expert at The Writing Guru.
The changing face of cover letters
The good news is that cover letters keep evolving with the hiring process. The evolution of cover letters makes the process of writing one much more palatable — especially if you’re conducting a strategic job search that’s focused on the quality of applications you submit instead of the quantity.
A cover letter becomes an email message if you’re building relationships and directly reaching a position’s recruiter or hiring manager, for example.
Similarly, a friend of mine used what I call a backdoor cover letter. Essentially, she wrote an email that looked similar to a cover letter to a connection who worked at one of her target companies. The connection then forwarded the email, with her resume attached, to the hiring manager of an open position with a brief endorsement.
In both of the above cases, the cover letter had morphed from a stuffy formal letter attached to an application to a more conversational or natural communication.
What’s the purpose of a cover letter?
Even though the cover letter has evolved over the years, the purpose is still generally the same as it was before they were even commonly used in the hiring process.
A look at the history of the cover letter published seven years ago in The Atlantic highlights the use of the term in a 1936 edition of the Wall Street Journal. A “cover letter” in the world of finance during that time would accompany raw financial data. The letter was meant to offer a more complete picture of what the data represented.
Likewise, you can use your cover letter to go beyond what’s on your resume or CV.
“I think the cover letter is kind of like the value-add,” Weiner of The Writing Guru told me.
The nuts and bolts of a cover letter
For people struggling to write a cover letter, Weiner told me it doesn’t have to be very long. In fact, she recommends that you stick to about 250 words, which should give you enough characters to get your point across without boring the recruiter or hiring manager on the other side. While that may not seem like a lot of words, the cover letter I submitted to LinkedIn in 2018 was about 175 words and three paragraphs.
Weiner said to start off the letter by explaining why you’re pursuing the position.
As for the rest of the letter, you’ll want to align your past successes with the needs of the potential employer.
“What you want to do is pick three things that would define your career success to lead them to want them to read your resume,” said Weiner.
“You’re setting your groundwork to show how you can help the company progress in its goals and objectives,” she said. “What the cover letter is doing is showcasing your expertise but it also shows how well you communicate.”
You don’t have to start from scratch each time
The good news is that Weiner said you can have a main cover letter that you change for each employer. Having a main cover letter can help reduce the risks of grammatical errors and some other issues that may arise while writing a fresh document each time.
Regardless, you must proofread each cover letter before submitting it or sending it to potential employers.
“Most people send the same cover letter and sometimes they forget to change the company and titles.”
Weiner added that it’s also a good idea to go the extra mile and address the letter to the hiring manager — if possible. One suggestion she had was to see if the job posting says who the position reports to within the company. Then, you can address the letter to the person who holds that position within the organization.
“You don’t want to make it seem like it’s a cookie-cutter cover letter that you’re sending to the other 20 companies that you’re applying to.”
She added that the importance of cover letters is likely increasing since so many people are looking for work right now.
“If you want to stand out among the other applicants, you may need to write out a well-crafted cover letter that showcases why you’re different than the other applicants,” she said. “My rule was always to send a personalized cover letter for each role I was applying to. I think it’s a good rule of thumb to use a cover letter each time you apply.”
What’s your experience with cover letters? Join the conversation.
▶ Want even more #GetHired?
I go live each Friday at 12:00 p.m. ET from the LinkedIn News page to discuss important issues affecting job seekers and answer your questions about looking for work. I spoke with Let’s Eat, Grandma CEO Chris Villanueva on the most recent episode. You can watch it by clicking here.
Click here or the image above to RSVP for the next #GetHired Live. You just need to click the “Remind Me” button below the post.
▶ The follow-up
You’ve likely heard about the “hidden job market” if you’ve been looking for work for more than a week or so. We discussed the term in the last edition of #GetHired and how to access the jobs it contains. The bottom line is that you shouldn’t worry too much about there being a hidden stockpile of jobs that are out of your reach. Instead, you should be focusing on strategically building relationships with people who can give you a heads up before jobs are advertised to the public, said Kyle Elliott, who is a career and life coach at CaffeinatedKyle.com. He suggests rekindling existing relationships and developing new ones to help gain that edge. Here’s what people are saying about that advice.
▶ Other news to help you #GetHired:
Can you be ‘forever employable?’ Many people are finding that they have let their skills age after being laid off or furloughed during the pandemic. Jeff Gothelf, who is an executive coach and author, says that people can take several steps in an effort to always be in demand by employers. He suggests: 1.) Be creative and entrepreneurial with your career, 2.) Be confident that your skills and experiences are unique, 3.) Always be learning, 4.) Always be improving, and 5.) Embrace reinvention. Here’s what people are saying about the advice.
Endless chatting during an interview may lead to a bad hire. One of the goals for job seekers during in-person interviews is to form a connection with the recruiter or hiring manager. If they really hit it off, the personal connection may sway the hiring decision regardless if the candidate can actually do the job. If that happens, the employer and the job seeker can end up in an unhappy match. Angela Duckworth, who is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on “grit,” says employers should let a candidate’s work do the talking. For example, they can ask for samples of a person’s past work and ask specific questions during the interview to learn if the candidate’s values align with the company’s needs. Here’s what people are saying about the advice.
Here’s who’s hiring right now. As I’ve said before, we’re doing our best to connect you with companies that are still hiring during these troubled economic times. Part of that effort is a regularly updated list of companies we know to be hiring. Some of those include Amazon, Walmart and CVS Health. Click here to see more.
▶ Up next:
The U.S. is celebrating Labor Day on Monday, September 7. I’ll be taking the day off, but I’ll be back with a fresh edition of #GetHired the following week on September 14. We’ll be discussing salary expectations during this difficult time. For example, should you expect to accept a lower salary because of the recession? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment on this post.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to reach out to me if you have ideas on topics or questions I should address in future editions of #GetHired. You can also email me at GetHired[at]LinkedIn.com.
When (and When Not) to Include a Cover Letter
Alison Doyle is one of the nation’s foremost career experts and has counseled both students and corporations on hiring practices. She has given hundreds of interviews on the topic for outlets including The New York Times, BBC News, and LinkedIn. Alison founded CareerToolBelt.com and has been an expert in the field for more than 20 years.
Do you really need a cover letter if a company doesn’t ask for one? Composing a lot of cover letters during a job search can be 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. You should almost always submit a cover letter, even if it is not required, but there are a few exceptions.
First, let’s look at why cover letters have value.
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.
Explaining why you’re an ideal candidate helps the hiring manager 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 will also make 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 take the time to go the extra distance.
When a Cover Letter is Important
Include Extra Information
A cover letter also 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.
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.
When Not to Include a Cover Letter
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, unfortunately, 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.
There’s No Way to Upload 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.