Are cover letters necessary? (When to send a cover letter)

They were once an essential part of a job application, but do you still need to send a cover letter to land the role? We tell you all you need to know.

It wasn’t too long ago that a job application consisted of two key components: your resume and a cover letter. But now many employers don’t ask for a cover letter at all.

We look at why, and show you how a good cover letter (in the right circumstances) can still help you stand out from the rest of the pack.

Why are cover letters becoming less popular?

A cover letter used to be the main way for you to show an employer what you were all about. It was a place for your personality to shine, adding extra details to the things you’d state on your resume and letting the hiring manager understand what made you tick.

But now in many cases, the hiring manager isn’t the first person to see your job application.

Instead, it will go through the machines.

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are computer programs that scan your resume for keywords and phrases, matching them up to what the job description asks for. They won’t care about your personality (until they invent a robot that can feel), meaning a cover letter will be wasted.

Do cover letters matter anymore?

This really depends on what kind of role you’re applying for. In larger industries, the chances are your application will go through an ATS, in which case a cover letter may never be read.

But if you’re applying for a smaller company, your application will probably be read by a hiring manager who will appreciate getting to know you. Even if they do use an ATS, your application will eventually be picked up by a human, and having a cover letter included could be the thing that makes all the difference.

Remember, the aim of the game with any job application is to stand out.

An applicant whose resume ticks all the boxes, but shows no personality, is less likely to get an interview than someone who does both.

Should I write a cover letter even if I’m not asked for one?

In short, yes. Even if it’s only a quick introduction, a well-written cover letter could be the thing that gets you the job. Hiring managers may be expecting a cover letter even if they haven’t requested it, and applications that don’t have one included might slip to the back of the line.

Why are cover letters important?

A cover letter can do things your resume cannot. Here are just a few of them:

1. Fill in the gaps

A resume is basically a list of your key career achievements, but it doesn’t give away much detail. This is where your cover letter comes in, adding color to your career picture and showing the recruiter that there’s a human behind the job history.

2. Be specific

Use your cover letter to offer specific examples of how you meet the job specification. If it asks for a hard-working team leader, describe a situation where you’ve been a hard-working team leader in the past.

3. Show your human side

A cover letter can be a great chance to show off your personality. The way you write and the information you share will tell the hiring manager what kind of person you are. Be sure to double-check the job description to make sure you sound like the kind of person they’re after.

When NOT to write a cover letter

There are a few situations when you absolutely should not send a cover letter, no matter how good we think they are.

1. The job ad specifically tells you not to

If you’ve been told not to send a cover letter, you should probably listen. Ignoring this advice makes it look like you haven’t paid attention and could annoy the hiring manager.

2. There’s no way of including one

If you’re applying for a job through an internal system, there might be no option to add a cover letter. They won’t expect you to email one separately, or fax it, or post it. Just don’t bother.

3. You’ve already included all that information

On some application programs, you’ll need to fill in certain information that would normally sit in your cover letter. In these cases, sending a cover letter would be unnecessary.

How can a cover letter give you the edge?

A good cover letter helps your application stand out. When it’s personalised and tailored toward a specific job, it shows you’ve paid attention and put the time in to get your application right.

Picture the scene: you’re hiring someone for a job and there are two applications in front of you. One is a good resume, showing examples of similar roles in the past.

The second is also a good resume, but this one comes with a well-written cover letter that highlights the person’s personality and gives details behind their experience.

Which applicant would you choose?

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