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Do You Need a Cover Letter When It's Not Required?
When you do (and don't) need a cover letter to apply for a job
Alison Doyle is one of the nation’s foremost career experts.
Why Write a Cover Letter?
Reasons to include a cover letter, reasons not to include a cover letter.
- Tips for Writing a Cover Letter
Do you really need a cover letter if a company doesn't ask for one? Writing a lot of cover letters during a job search is often both 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. That said, there are a few exceptions.
You should almost always submit a cover letter , even if the company doesn't ask for one.
Here's what you need to know about the value of cover letters, along with the situations where you can skip 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.
All of your efforts in the cover letter will help hiring managers 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 also makes 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 go the extra distance.
To Share Extra Information
A cover letter 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.
To 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.
For some jobs, you won't need a cover letter to apply. Some employers don't accept cover letters as part of the application process. For other positions, there may be no way to submit one. If a cover letter is optional, it's better to skip it if you don't have the time to compose a well-written one.
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 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.
When There's No Way to Submit 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.
Kelly Miller. / The Balance
- Make it targeted. Be sure to compose a targeted letter that is written with the job listing in mind. Focus on the skills and abilities you possess that make you a strong fit for the specific job.
- Keep it short. Make sure that your letters are concise (no more than one page topping out at five paragraphs) and that every statement you make conveys something significant about your qualifications for the candidacy.
- Go beyond your resume. Avoid simply repeating your resume. Provide examples not listed in your resume, and expand upon things mentioned only briefly in your resume. Your cover letter should have a distinct purpose regarding your application.
- Edit, edit, edit. Errors in your cover letter can hurt your chances of getting an interview. Errors make you look sloppy, or worse, not educated. Be sure to thoroughly read your letter before submitting it. Consider asking a friend or colleague to read it as well to check for typos, grammatical errors, and confusing language.
- Writing a cover letter makes the hiring manager's job easier, by highlighting exactly why you're the right match for the role. That gives your application an edge.
- Even if the company doesn't specifically request a cover letter, it's a good idea to write one if you're interested in the role at hand.
- Skip a cover letter if the employer says not to write one, or if there isn't a place to include one in an online application form.
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3 times you can skip the cover letter—and the 1 time you absolutely shouldn't
Some job listings will say "cover letter required," while others don't include any mention about it at all. When it comes to the latter, many applicants often wonder, Should I submit one in anyway?
It's a competitive job market out there, and hiring managers and job recruiters today spend about six seconds reviewing each resume . According to Glassdoor , a job search and salary comparison website, approximately 250 resumes are submitted for each corporate job listing, and only five or so candidates will be called for an interview.
So when is it necessary to send a cover letter? Here's the thing: Hiring managers love them — they get you noticed quickly, show you've gone the extra mile and demonstrate how much you really want the job.
A bad cover letter, however, can hinder your objectives .
Don't submit a cover letter if...
1. You have no interest in personalizing the cover letter: Many applicants will Google "cover letter examples," pick one in a rush and model their cover letter after it. By doing so, not only will it be evident that you submitted a cover letter designed for mass distribution, but you might have overlooked some mistakes, like addressing the letter to the wrong person, company or even listing the wrong position you're applying for.
(Trust me, this is something hiring managers see all the time, and it's absolutely cringing. It also takes away from their valuable time that could be spent reviewing your resume.)
2. You don't have anything new to say: Hiring managers expect to read a compelling and impressive cover letter, not an exact replicate of your resume. (Think about how you felt when writing your personal statement for all those college applications; it was a big deal and you knew the admissions office were looking for someone who they'd feel proud to have representing their school).
It's no different with cover letters. Do you have any unusual hobbies that led you to be interested in the field of work you're applying for? Is there a backstory that explains why you admire the company? Whatever you write, just don't elaborate on your job history and skills (that's what the resume is for).
3. You only have ideas on how to improve the company
Save the problem-solving suggestions for the job interview (that is, if you're luck enough to get one), when you'll 100 percent be asked those similar questions (i.e., "what would you improve about [XYZ]?"). A cover letter can be used as an opportunity to demonstrate your job knowledge, but don't use it as an outlet to tell your prospective employer what they are doing wrong and how to fix it.
No one likes hearing negative things about their business from a stranger, even if your feedback has merit. Curiosity, humility and tact will trump a "know-it-all" every time. Focus on the positive aspects and potential solutions for the business.
When to include a cover letter
Notwithstanding the above, the only time you should submit a cover letter is when you have valuable information to share that's not conveyed in your resume.
I've hired many candidates based on something that stood out in their cover letter. Here are some examples:
1. A personal connection or referral: If you were personally introduced to a hiring manager (or someone high up in the company), always acknowledge that relationship in a cover letter. Who made the introduction? How you know them? Why did they think you are a good fit for the role? A personal referral goes a long way, so don't miss out on capturing the advantage.
2. You have a history with the company or hiring team: If you have any link to the organization, it's essential to connect the dots. Did you intern at the company? Did you cross paths when you worked for a supplier, a competitor or even a team member in a previous company? You never want to surprise the recruiter and have them hear about the connection from someone else; getting ahead of it will make you an exciting candidate and demonstrate that you're a transparent and a proactive communicator.
3. It's your dream job: If the position you're applying for indeed is your dream job, write a personal and heartfelt cover letter. Take the opportunity to demonstrate that you've researched the company and workplace culture well. If you're going through the trouble of writing a fantastic personalized cover letter, do everything in your power to email it directly to the hiring manager, so it doesn't get lost alongside hundreds or even thousands of other applicants in the automated applicant tracking system.
Debby Carreau is an entrepreneur, author and founder of Inspired HR . She has been recognized as one of Canada's Top 25 HR Professionals and is a regular contributor on multiple TV shows, Entrepreneur Magazine and many other print and online publications. She is a board member for YPO and Elevation Group as well as an Advisory Board member for FinDev Canada.
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Do I Need a Cover Letter in 2023? Are Cover Letters Mandatory?
During the job-hunting process, you might find yourself asking “do I really need a cover letter?”
And honestly, that’s a very good question.
You might’ve heard a lot of recruiters say that cover letters aren’t nearly as important as the resume. Some recruiters even openly admit that they don’t read cover letters at all.
So, no wonder that you’re confused about whether or not you really need a cover letter.
In this article, we’re going to deep dive into the topic and teach you when you really need a cover letter (and when you don’t).
- Whether you need to include a cover letter in your application (and why)
- When to not include a cover letter with your resume
- When to really put effort into your cover letter
Do I Need a Cover Letter For My Resume
Short answer: yes , you should submit a cover letter alongside your resume.
- Most job openings require you to submit a cover letter. Recruiters might not have the time to read ALL the cover letters they receive, but they will definitely read cover letters if they’re on the fence for a candidate. Besides, even if they never get to your cover letter, failing to submit one when it’s required will be a red flag.
- A cover letter shows that you’ve put in the extra effort. So, even if the recruiters don’t read them, they will know that you really want the job and that you are committed to taking all necessary steps to show you’re worth it.
- A cover letter can set you apart from other candidates. Imagine this scenario: a recruiter is looking at two candidates with the same exact professional background and resume. The difference? One submitted an A++ cover letter that showed exactly why they’re the perfect fit for the job, while the other just copied and pasted an internet template. Which one would you pick? Our point exactly!
The above being said, there do exist a few cases where a cover letter isn’t necessary and a few others where you shouldn't just submit a cover letter, but you should really put in the extra effort to make it memorable!
Ready to go through them?
When Not to Include a Cover Letter
The 3 cases where you don’t need to include a cover letter with your application are:
#1. The job opening doesn’t require one.
Yeap, in some cases, the job description will specifically instruct you not to submit a cover letter when you’re applying for the position. Needless to say, submitting one regardless of the instructions will not make you a poster child for dedication; it will just show you can’t follow instructions.
#2. You don’t have the time to customize your cover letters.
If there’s one thing that’s worse than not submitting a cover letter, is submitting a bad cover letter. What do we mean by bad? An uncustomized cover letter, or a cover letter based on a one-fits-all kind of template that you plan on mass-sending to all the jobs you’re applying for.
So, if you’re applying to many jobs and you just don’t have the time (or creativity) to write a separate cover letter tailored to each job, then just don’t write one instead of making that cover letter mistake.
#3. There is no place to upload one on the application platform.
When you’re filling out an online job application, you might notice there is no place to upload a cover letter.
Consider that a clear sign that a cover letter is not required for that particular role.
When Should You Put Extra Effort to Submit a Cover Letter
Now, as we said, the best practice is to submit a cover letter with your resume for any job, internship, or even internal position that you apply for (unless they explicitly ask you not to).
That being said, there are a few cases in which you should REALLY submit a cover letter—and put in extra effort to make it significant:
- You have important information to add. It might be a career gap, the need for a relocation, or a career change - anything, basically, that you can’t go into detail about in your resume. Your cover letter is your chance to explain it (especially if it adds significant value to your application).
- There’s a personal connection/referral. If someone has personally referred you to the company, make sure to acknowledge that in your cover letter. A personal referral means bonus points for your application, so don’t miss out on a chance to mention it.
- You have a link to the company. Did you complete an internship at the company? Or maybe you know the hiring manager or someone higher up the ranks outside of work. No matter the case, be upfront about any link you may have to the company in your cover letter. It will probably do your application good or at least show those reading it that you’re transparent.
- It’s your dream job. Without making it a love letter to the company, use your cover letter to express what this job means to you professionally and how it’ll help you thrive. Passion goes a long way!
6 Tips For a Perfect Cover Letter
The bottom line?
Overwhelmingly, a cover letter is an essential part of your job application and you should include one with your resume.
So, as you can imagine, your cover letter should be on par with your resume. Before you start writing your cover letter, here are a few tips to make the process easier for you:
- Keep it short. One page is more than enough when it comes to cover letters. Actually, the optimal length for a cover letter is between 250-400 words long.
- Follow submission instructions. In the job description, look out for specifics on the cover letter format (Word or PDF), fonts and margins, and content (such as which sections or information to include).
- Proofread your cover letter. Once you’re done writing, make sure your cover letter doesn’t have any grammar or spelling mistakes. Use spell check software such as Grammarly to be on the safe side.
- Avoid cliches. Saying you’re a “great team player” or “effective communicator” will get you nowhere. Instead, aim to show it by backing it up with your experience. Think, “I’m a great communicator” versus “I’m a great communicator, having closed 50+ sales per month at my last job.”
- Enhance your personal brand. Opt to use the same fonts, margins, colors, and style in both your resume and cover letter. In this way, you can highlight your personal brand and make more of an impression on the hiring manager.
- Use action verbs . To make your achievements stand out, use action verbs. So, instead of repeating “I was responsible for” or “I was in charge of,” you can use action verbs such as “managed” or “coordinated.”
Do you still have some unanswered questions? Here are the most frequently asked questions on whether cover letters are mandatory.
Do I need a cover letter for a part-time job?
You should follow the same practice with your part-time job application as you would with a full-time one. That means you should definitely submit a strong cover letter with your resume (unless otherwise indicated in the job description).
Do I need a cover letter for an internal position?
When you apply for an internal position within the company, you should create a cover letter to highlight your experience and professional interest in the position.
Do I need a cover letter for an internship?
Yes, you should include a cover letter with your resume when you’re applying for an internship. The cover letter should focus on your skills and strengths, your education, and your dedication to the internship program.
Not sure how to write a cover letter for an internship from scratch? This article will tell you all you need to know!
Do I need a cover letter for an entry-level job?
Yes, an entry-level cover letter is a must.
You might not have many professional or relevant experiences to list on your resume (e.g. you’re a recent college graduate or you’re changing career paths), so the cover letter is where you can convey your enthusiasm and commitment. Plus, you can also (in words) explain how your skills from your university or past career translate into the job you’re applying for.
Do employers read the cover letter or resume first?
Generally, employers will first read your resume to see if you have the relevant experience or skills for the position. From there, they decide whether your cover letter is worth reading or not. If you send your cover letter in the body of the email where you have attached your resume, though, the recruiter will probably skim through it before opening your resume.
Keep in mind that in such a case your cover letter should be perfect, especially in terms of spelling and business etiquette. If the recruiter spots a “u r” instead of “you are,” or a smiley face, they might not even get to your resume.
Want your cover letter to match your resume? We are confident that the hiring manager will appreciate the effort. Do it effortlessly by using Novorésumé's matching cover letter and resume templates !
Well, that was all on whether cover letters are mandatory in 2023. We hope that we answered all your questions on the topic.
Here’s a quick review of the main things we covered:
- In 98% of cases, you should include a cover letter in your job application. Although recruiters might not always read it, they expect candidates to submit one. A cover letter will considerably boost your chances and set you apart from other candidates with similar backgrounds and resumes.
- Don’t include a cover letter if the job opening specifies it’s not necessary, if you don’t have time to customize it to the position, or if there is no place to upload one in the application platform.
- Put extra effort in your cover letter if you have extra information to add to your resume if you have been personally referred for the job, if you have a link to the company, or if you’re applying to your dream job.
- How to Start a Cover Letter
- How to End a Cover Letter
- How to Address a Cover Letter