Cover letters are a time-consuming part of the job application process, especially when done well. You might be wondering: Should I include a cover letter in my job application?
The answer: Many career experts agree that sending a cover letter is almost always the best decision. In the world of automated applications, a well-written cover letter gives you the opportunity to show a personal side and demonstrate why hiring you is a smart move. It’s a way to stand out among hundreds of other candidates. Here are some guidelines to take into account:
Emphasize and highlight important keywords
Ideally, job applicants should tailor their cover letters to the individual hiring manager and position, incorporating specific keywords that align to the job posting. Don’t just repeat what’s in your resume. Instead, sell your interest in the position and tell a unique story about why you are perfect fit for the role. Cover letters should be free of typos and incorrect information — hiring managers often rely these details to evaluate your ability to follow directions or work ethic.
Share your unique story but connect it to the role
As you are tailoring your cover letter, you want to share job experiences or personal stories as they relate to the job you’re applying to. You can be creative in how you do this but always bring it back to the requirements of the role. In How to Write a Cover Letter, you’ll see examples of how to write a creative cover letter or a more conventional one — both are strong options if done well.
Have a conversation with smaller companies
Roles at smaller companies can have a big impact on the organization’s culture, so hiring managers will sometimes use cover letters to determine how well a candidate will fit in with the team. This means your cover letter can have an especially meaningful effect by allowing you to introduce yourself, reference why you’d be a good fit for the role and the mission of the company, and make a personal connection.
Address gaps and concerns
Your cover letter is also the perfect place to proactively address issues or potential concerns. It can explain irregularities in your employment, short-term positions and even incomplete degrees. Don’t leave potential employers to guess or assume the worst. Instead, take this opportunity to tell your story on your own terms and in the most positive way possible.
Caveat: when not to send a cover letter
There are instances when it is not appropriate to send a cover letter — specifically when an employer does not request one and/or the job application software does not allow for additional document attachments. If this is the case, follow the employer’s instructions. And, make sure your resume includes plenty of keywords that align to the job description. If the online application offers the cover letter as “optional,” take this option and increase your chances of moving forward in the process.
Here are additional resources to help you complete your job applications successfully:
- Start with the basics on writing your cover letter: follow instructions, tell the story of your career in your own voice and capture the attention of the hiring manager.
- After you’ve written your cover letter, you’ll want to edit and proofread to ensure you aren’t making mistakes that might cost you the job.
- Finally, double back and spend time proofreading your resume to make sure all of the information in both documents is consistent throughout and relevant to the job.
While you’re putting in the work of applying to jobs, you can also have employers contact you with fresh opportunities. Get started with an Indeed Resume.
Thanks for the feedback!
Thanks for the feedback!
Should you always send a cover letter?
Do you always have to submit a cover letter, or can you skip it? We checked in with a panel of career experts to find out.
Cover letters could give you an advantage.
You found an exciting new job posting and are getting ready to submit your resume, but what about a cover letter? Is it always necessary to spend time writing a cover letter, or are there times you can get away without one? We checked in with a panel of career experts to find out.
Pro: Cover letters can set you apart
“Skip the cover letter, and you miss out on an opportunity to sell yourself,” says Evelyn Salvador, author of Step-by-Step Cover Letters: Build a Cover Letter in 10 Easy Steps Using Personal Branding and principal of Creative Image Builders, a resume-development and career-coaching firm in Coram, New York.
Sending a cover letter along with a resume helps you build your brand the same way an advertising company promotes a product’s brand. “A well-defined brand wins interviews, maximizes salary potential and puts job seekers in the top 2 percent of candidates considered for positions,” Salvador says.
Think of your cover letter as another tool in your job search arsenal, says Betty Corrado, owner of career-coaching and resume-writing firm Career Authenticity in Cos Cob, Connecticut. “The cover letter is a key part of your marketing package,” she says. “Use it as an opportunity to convey your brand and value proposition.”
Pro: Cover letters let you reveal your personality and build rapport
A resume tends to be fact-based and somewhat formal, but a cover letter can be infused with personality. “Don’t be afraid to inject personal notes about interests or philosophies that may help employers determine if you will fit into their culture,” says Roleta Fowler Vasquez, professional resume writer and owner of Wordbusters in Fillmore, California. To increase the “wow” factor of their cover letters, she encourages applicants to add a few standout accomplishments that don’t appear on the resume.
Laila Atallah, a Seattle career counselor and owner of Career Counseling with a Twist, agrees that a cover letter can be more revealing than a resume. “The best cover letters are infused with energy, personality and details about the applicant’s skills and achievements,” she says. “I get a sense of the person and what they’ve accomplished, and it’s easier for me to picture them in their next job.”
Job seekers often make the mistake of sending a resume without a cover letter, says Ann Baehr, president of Best Resumes of New York in East Islip, New York. “This is a missed opportunity to establish rapport with employers and provide a sense of who they are beyond their work experience,” she says.
Thinking about skipping the cover letter when applying for an internal position? Don't. Use the cover letter to show how well you understand your employer’s mission and remind management of how much you have already accomplished.
Include a cover letter even if a colleague is submitting your resume for you. The letter is a chance to introduce yourself and mention your contact as a reminder that you are a referral. This is what a cover letter should include, should you decide to send one.
Pro: Cover letters let you tell a story
The cover letter can include information that would be out of place on the resume. “Job seekers can include the name of a mutual contact or referral, state how they would benefit the employer if hired and explain tricky situations such as changing careers, relocating, returning to the workforce and so on,” Baehr says.
Atallah encourages job seekers to learn about the requirements of the job opening and use the cover letter to express how and why they are uniquely qualified. “Use your cover letter to tell a story,” she says. “Studies show that stories are memorable and engaging, and cover letters are a perfect vehicle for expressing your successes in a more storylike format.”
When not to send a cover letter
Given all the reasons to send a cover letter, is it ever a good idea not to? “If the application instructions expressly say not to include a cover letter, or if an online application offers no opportunity, then you can forego the cover letter in these cases,” Atallah says.
Vasquez agrees that you should not send a cover letter when the employer specifically says not to. “This may be a test of your ability to follow directions,” she says.
What if you think the cover letter won’t be read? Corrado says that while some hiring managers say they don’t read cover letters, those who do may dismiss your application if you don’t send one. “Why take this chance when you need every possible advantage in this job market?” she asks.
While writing cover letters is time-consuming, the consensus is that the effort could give you an edge and help you land more interviews.
Looking for more ways you can stand out in your job search? Join Monster today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume and cover letter. Recruiters search Monster every day looking for exceptional candidates just like you.