Do you really need to include a cover letter with your resume or job application?
More importantly, does it improve your chances of securing an interview, or does it have the opposite effect?
The short answer is NO: A cover letter is NOT necessary for most job applications, but there are still a few scenarios where you significantly increase your chances of securing an interview by sending a cover letter.
Let’s talk about it in more detail.
The Purpose Of A Cover Letter
Why do people send cover letters?
It’s not to repeat what you wrote on your resume. At least not everything.
Rather, a cover letter allows you to cherry-pick relevant bits of information to the role, and frame that information in a way that makes you more attractive as a candidate.
It allows you to write the narrative about who you are, what you bring to this particular table, and why they should even care.
Here’s another way to think about it:
If your resume is the product specification, your cover letter is the marketing for that product.
And that brings me to my next point…
Why Cover Letters Aren’t Always Necessary (And Often A Hindrance)
Not everyone needs the hard sell.
If your qualifications and experience clearly speak to your suitability as a candidate, attaching a cover letter isn’t going to add any further context. Nothing meaningful, anyway.
In that case, there’s little sense in spending extra time on a cover letter that only serves to state the obvious. While the average cover letter is only a few paragraphs long, writing customized cover letters is very time-intensive.
Even if it takes you only 10-15 minutes to write the perfect cover letter for each job you apply for, that quickly adds up to several more hours invested over dozens of applications.
How many more jobs could you have applied for in that time if you just skipped the cover letter? How many more interviews could you have gotten?
Successful job hunting requires a fine balance between sheer volume and crafting the perfect application, and too many job seekers rely on the latter (which is where LinkedIn’s Easy Apply feature can be so helpful.)
This is why cover letters should only be reserved for jobs where they’re clearly warranted, which brings me to my next point…
When You Probably Should Provide A Cover Letter
Sometimes, a job listing will clearly state that a cover letter is required or expected, in which case you should provide one (duh!).
But it’s not always so obvious.
Fortunately, there are a few rules of thumb you can follow.
Regardless of whether it’s formally required, it’s always a good idea to include a cover letter if one of the following is true:
- You know the person doing the hiring (or at least know their name)
- You’ve been referred to the job by someone else
- You have an unexplained gap (or gaps) in your resume
- You lack some of the skills or experience required for the role
- You need to highlight something else that doesn’t make sense to include in a resume
If none of the above is true, I recommend NOT wasting time writing up a cover letter, and use that time applying for another job instead.
In any other case, you’ll need to know…
How To Write A Cover Letter (When You Need To)
Cover letters can be daunting if you’re just starting out in your job search, but they’re relatively easy to write with enough practice and the right structure.
We’ve already touched on the purpose of a cover letter, but we can break that down even further with a simple writing formula.
The Formula For Writing Cover Letters
Professional copywriters use formulas all the time to get someone to take a specific action, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to achieve with our cover letter — the action being to read the attached resume.
Here’s the formula:
- Add your name and contact information
- Address the hiring manager formally
- Tell them what position you’re applying for
- Tell them why you want to work for company
- Highlight the pain points they’re trying to solve with this hire
- Explain why hiring you is the solution to those points
- End with a clear call to action
And here’s a generic structure you can start with based on the above formula:
“[Your Name] – [Your Phone Number] – [Your Email] – [Your Address]
I just learned about the opening you have for [Job Title] and I’d love to be considered for the role. I’m particularly interested in being a part of [Company] because [reason].
I’m aware that you’re seeking a [Job Title] to help [pain point] and alleviate some of the [pain point].
As you’ll see from the resume attached, my skills and experience in [industry] make me a perfect match for this role. I have every confidence in my ability to [solution to pain point] and [solution to pain point].
Please reach me on [phone number] for any further questions or to schedule an interview. I look forward to talking with you.
Of course, executing this effectively means having done your research beforehand so you can develop some understanding of the pain points and desires you need to address.
Finally, there are plenty of other resources online for writing the perfect cover letter, each with its own unique approach. We recommend this article or this article if you need more guidance on this.
Cover letters can help you get ahead of other candidates by writing your own narrative, and remain a valuable tool in any jobseekers toolkit.
But they’re not always necessary, so including one for every job application is a highly inefficient use of your time.
Ultimately, the key is knowing when to focus on writing a cover letter, and when to focus on more volume.