When Are Cover Letters Necessary (With Examples)

By Kristin Kizer and Experts - Oct. 10, 2021

Find a Job You Really Want In

You’re ready to go out, hit the proverbial pavement, and start job hunting.

Unfortunately, in 2021 things have changed a bit on the old job-hunting landscape. Obviously, almost no one goes door-to-door looking for a job; they hit the internet.

Job trends have changed with working from home becoming common, large amounts of people unemployed due to covid-19, and companies overwhelmed with applicants. Your biggest concern is making a great impression and getting the job.

The first question you need answered — are cover letters necessary?

While this seems like a 2021 question, it actually is one that’s been a hot topic for several years. In fact, a recent study looked at the question, “Do employers even read cover letters?”

Let’s be clear here — they don’t — but that doesn’t mean that one isn’t required.

In fact, they found that employers place a significant amount of importance on cover letters. If you feel like you’re suddenly being asked to perform for an empty auditorium — you’re right. Employers want you to submit a cover letter but they’re never going to read it — probably.

Add that little tidbit of data to your desire not to write a cover letter and your belief that they do little to advance your application and you come up even more confused than before. We’re going to help you understand why and when cover letters are important so you can make an informed decision based on your particular situation.

Why Write a Cover Letter?

A cover letter is your introduction to the company. It’s a handshake and a hello on paper. Even if only half of all employers read cover letters, and even if they’re just skimming them, this is still your chance to shine and to highlight your achievements, special skills, and experience.

It may be a formality and, for many, it’s not a fun part of their job search, but it can be the one thing that makes you stand out as a professional, gets you noticed, and creates a good impression.

Some percentage of hiring managers and recruiters do find cover letters valuable. A good cover letter showcases how you intend to add value to the company, suggests solutions for the role, and contains pertinent information about how to contact you and your availability.

Just think of it this way: if a hiring manager is on the fence about deciding between which candidate to call in for an interview, a stellar cover letter could be just the thing to help you pull ahead.

When a Cover Letter Is Important

Can you determine if a cover letter is needed or not?

Obviously, not all jobs are the same, so their requirements probably aren’t the same. This is an absolutely correct assumption. The problem is there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules about what industries require a cover letter. Let’s first look at when a cover letter is important.

  • Confusing resume. If you have something in your resume that needs clarification, a cover letter is where you get your chance to do that.

  • Gaps in employment history. If you have a gap in your employment history, you can explain it in your cover letter.

  • Relocation. If you live in a different region but are willing to relocate, that’s also important information.

  • New to the field. If you’re an entry-level worker, a cover letter can showcase your non-professional, related experience and convey your enthusiasm.

  • Showcase key skills. If you have specific skills or experience that relates directly to the position, highlight it in a cover letter.

  • Personal connection. If you have a connection to the company that’s hiring, your cover letter is a good place to point it out.

  • Higher-level position. If you’re applying for a job in mid-management or above, you should always include a cover letter as part of the formal process.

  • Employer requests it. If the employer asks for a cover letter, even if you don’t feel it’s necessary, you need to include one with your job application.

  • Information doesn’t fit in your resume. If you feel you have something relevant to say that’s not covered in your resume, then a cover letter lets you do that.

Is a Cover Letter Necessary to Get a Job?

A cover letter is probably not necessary to get a job in most situations, but there’s always a chance that it might be, meaning there’s no harm in sending one. Your resume should give the employer the basics of your experience and they can do the math to determine if your skills line up with their opening.

Add to that the fact that most employers don’t do more than peruse a cover letter, at best. It seems like a cover letter is a thing of the past, but it’s not.

Unless the job posting specifically states that a cover letter isn’t necessary or you’re completing an online application and there’s no spot for a cover letter, then you should consider it necessary.

It’s all about showing a prospective employer that you know how to follow the rules and you’re willing to do what’s asked of you. When you think about it, just that reason alone is enough to include a cover letter.

Going further than job etiquette, if you land one of those employers who actually read cover letters, you definitely want to use it to your advantage. In today’s job market, with competition running hot, you want to use everything you can to be a desirable candidate.

You not only want to include a cover letter but you want to fill it with everything that the employer wants to hear. You need to research cover letter tips so you can craft the best cover letter that employer has ever seen.

You want to see that letter framed and hanging on their wall when you go in for a job interview — well, not really of course, but that’s the mindset you should have when you’re writing it.

When Not to Send a Cover Letter

Okay, we just told you that having a cover letter is all but imperative, but what about when it’s not? There are definitely some situations where a cover letter isn’t required and then some situations when it will do you more harm than good. The following times are when it’s probably best not to send a cover letter:

  • When the employer doesn’t want one. Whether they tell you not to write one in the job description or they have software that doesn’t allow for one — these people don’t want to see a cover letter. Note: if it says cover letter optional, you should write one.

  • Your cover letter is full of errors. If your cover letter is full of mistakes and makes you look like a bad job candidate. A cover letter needs to be proofread and edited by someone who is good with language and grammar. If that’s not your strong suit, then you need to find some help or skip the cover letter.

  • You’re not customizing each cover letter. If you’re using a generic, non-customized, cover letter template that doesn’t add any value to your application, you can go ahead and skip it altogether.

Summary of Whether or Not You Need a Cover Letter

You can probably see where this is heading. Not only should you send a cover letter, but they are, in fact, necessary in many situations. But that doesn’t mean that writing one is a foregone conclusion. The following situations will help you decide if you need a cover letter or not.

Cover letters are necessary when:

  • The job requires a cover letter to even consider you

  • You want to stand out and get hired

  • Your skills deserve more than the resume provides

  • To explain gaps in your education, employment history, etc.

  • You have additional information which isn’t in your resume, but relevant to the job

Don’t submit a cover letter if:

  • The job specifically asks you not to submit a cover letter

  • You don’t have a polished and grammatically correct cover letter

  • You have nothing to add that isn’t in your resume

  • You only have ideas on how to improve the company, not how you can help

  • You’re filling out an online application and there’s no place to put a cover letter

It’s a good idea to inclulde a cover letter if:

  • If the job posting says they’re optional, it’s better to err on the side of including a cover letter

  • You have a personal connection to the company or a referral

  • You have a history with the company or hiring team

  • It’s your dream job

Submitting a Cover Letter and Resume

All this talk about cover letters, it seems like we’re forgetting about the resume. Don’t worry, we’re not.

Writing a great resume that gets you hired is such an important task that it’s a topic for another article. Just know that if you’re submitting a cover letter, you definitely need to include a resume because that’s something that’s not only going to get read, but also resonate with future employers.

How to write a cover letter

Parts of a Cover Letter (With Examples)

Now that we’ve stressed the importance of a cover letter, you’ve got a task ahead of you — to write a knock-their-socks-off cover letter that gets you hired. Make sure all of the standard parts of a cover letter are present:

  • The header. Include all of the contact information for yourself and the employer. Also, include the current date between the two sets of addresses.

    Bill Billson
    22 Happy Court
    Marigold, TX, 10987

    April 26, 2021

    Alice Allison
    New Company
    5225 East Park Ln.
    Austin, TX, 73301

    If you’re emailing your cover letter, you can leave off all of this information. Instead, include relevant contact information for yourself following your signature.

  • The greeting. Always do your best to find the hiring manager’s name. Check the job posting, the company website, and the company’s LinkedIn page. If you strike out online, simply call the company and ask who you should address your cover letter to for whatever position you’re applying for.

    Never use “Mrs.” as it is difficult to determine the marital status of the hiring manager. Stick with Ms./Mr./Dr. (or any other professional title) followed by the person’s last name. If their name is gender-neutral, play it safe and use their full name.

    If you can’t find the hiring manager’s name, you can use “Dear Hiring Manager” or one of its alternatives. Never use “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern” — it’s not 1921 and the recruiter will assume you’ve copy/pasted the same cover letter all over town.

    Dear Ms. Bickerly,
    Dear Pat Thompson,
    Dear Software Engineering Hiring Team,

  • Opening paragraph. Start by indicating the role you’re applying for and then grabbing the reader’s attention with an impressive and relevant accomplishment. You want to come across as enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and competent right off the bat.

    When I saw a job posting for a Marketing Manager at ABC Inc., I knew I had to apply. I’ve long been a fan of ABC’s methodology of direct email campaigns alongside social media outreach and organic content marketing, and my 6+ years in Marketing have made me adept at each of these facets of an effective marketing strategy.

  • The body. Your cover letter’s body paragraph(s) should accomplish two things: explain why you’re a perfect candidate with all the right qualifications and experiences and explain why you’re attracted to this particular company. The first part is all about using the same important keywords from the job description.

    The second part might involve a bit of research and creativity to determine the company’s values and show how they align with your own.

    I have a special passion for content marketing that achieves big results. By strategizing a 6-month campaign that saw over 400 pieces of high-quality content produced, I got to watch XYZ’s organic traffic skyrocket by 569%. Even better, by streamlining our funnel with the sales and product teams, we were able to drive revenue by 36% YoY.

    My passion is helping customer’s find answers to questions, which is why your brand statement “Quality Solutions the First Time” really resonates with me.

  • Closing. Now all you have to do is close your cover letter with a reiteration of your excitement for the role and an invitation for follow-up steps. A call-to-action is the usual way to wrap things up; in practice, this simply looks like:

    I look forward to discussing ABC’s marketing goals and helping achieve those goals. Thank you for considering me for the role.

  • Signature. If you’re sending a physical letter, add 4 spaces between your sign-off and your printed name. Then, put the signature between the two. If you’re emailing your cover letter, you can use an email signature or simply include your contact information after your typed name.

    We recommend sticking with a classic like:

    Sincerely,
    Best Regards,
    Thank you for your consideration,

When writing your cover letter, pay particular attention to the open because that’s where you’re going to get their attention and, hopefully, encourage them to keep reading. Then customize the letter so you really explain why you’re the perfect fit, brag a little if you can.

Finally, create a cover letter close that’s friendly and personal. Try not to concern yourself with wondering if they’ll read it or not, assume they will and do the best job you can.

Importance of a Cover Letter FAQ

  1. How important is a cover letter?

    A cover letter is very important. Including a cover letter with your resume will give hiring managers a complete picture of what you’d bring to the company than your resume can often provide. It will also often answer questions and alleviate concerns they may have after they read your resume.

    If you have a gap in your work history, it’s difficult to communicate the reasons for that gap through your resume alone. In addition, it’s nearly impossible to share your enthusiasm for the job through resume bullet points, and employers want to see your passion for the position.

    You can, however, include all of this information and more in your cover letter. Writing one lets you flesh out your resume and let your personality shine through, which can be an advantage when you’re competing for a job opening.

    Even if the hiring manager doesn’t read your cover letter, you’ve at least allowed them to glean all the information they need to determine whether or not you should continue to the next stage of the hiring process — information they can’t get if you don’t include a cover letter.

  2. What happens if you don’t include a cover letter?

    If you don’t include a cover letter, you risk getting passed up for another candidate who did. If you don’t include a cover letter for a company that specifically asked for one, your application will likely be thrown out immediately. (For the same reason, if the company specifically tells you not to include one, don’t include one.)

    If the company doesn’t tell you what to do one way or another and you don’t write a cover letter, you risk losing your competitive edge.

    Hiring managers have to narrow down the list of candidates one way or another. Suppose you and another candidate are similarly qualified, but they wrote a cover letter, and you didn’t. You’re generally more likely to be the one who gets eliminated.

    This is because writing a cover letter when you weren’t asked shows that you’re willing to go the extra mile to do a job well, it helps hiring managers see that you’re passionate about the position, and it showcases your communication skills.

    Not only that, but if hiring managers have a question or hesitation about your resume, your cover letter can often answer this for them, keeping you in the running.

    Leaving out this extra communication channel lowers your chances of moving forward in the hiring process, especially if another candidate did write a cover letter that silences hiring managers’ concerns.

  3. Should I include a cover letter if they don’t ask for one?

    Yes, you should include a cover letter if they don’t ask for one. A cover letter allows employers to see your personality and passion for the job, and it allows you to truly sell yourself as a candidate.

    You can do this by explaining why you’re interested in this particular position and how you and your skills would help further the organization.

    This is important because if hiring managers are on the fence about offering you an interview based on your qualifications alone, your cover letter might be the piece that pushes your application over the edge to get to move forward to the next step in the hiring process.

    There are some exceptions to this rule, however. Don’t include a cover letter if:

    • You can’t ensure it will be professionally written without typos or grammatical errors.

    • You’re going to use a template cover letter.

    • There isn’t a place on the online application to submit a cover letter.

    Submitting a badly written or impersonal cover letter can do more harm than good, so if you can’t spend the time required to tailor it to the job or to have someone help you proofread it, it’s usually better to skip it entirely.

    In addition, if an online application portal doesn’t provide a place to submit a cover letter, don’t force it and take that as your hint that the company doesn’t want one.

  4. Do cover letters really make a difference?

    Yes, cover letters really make a difference. When you apply for a job, hiring managers are looking for reasons to either move your application forward in the hiring process or to eliminate you as a candidate, and your resume, answers to application questions, and cover letter provide the only information they have on which to base this decision.

    A cover letter can play a variety of roles in your efforts to sell yourself as a candidate, including:

    • Explaining any gaps in employment.

    • Highlighting your soft skills if you’re new to the industry and don’t have much relevant experience.

    • Demonstrating your personality to make a personal connection.

    • Showing how your skills and experience relate to the position.

    • Sharing why you want this particular position and what you would add to the company if hired.

    It isn’t necessarily a given that you won’t get a job without a cover letter and will get the job with one, but if you don’t include one, you’ll certainly miss out on all of the benefits that a cover letter can give you.

    To further understand the difference a cover letter can make, put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. You have a stack of similar resumes that needs to shrink.

    Wouldn’t you be more likely to keep a candidate in the running if you could get a glimpse of their personality and passion for the job than someone with a similar list of accomplishments who didn’t provide that information?

    In addition, a cover letter can also answer questions that might turn into hesitations about whether or not you’re a good candidate, helping to secure your chances of getting an interview.

  5. What do employers look for in a cover letter?

    Employers look for conciseness, professionalism, and personality in a cover letter. The technical details will change based on the job and requirements, but these three elements carry through no matter what content you put in your cover letter.

    Hiring managers don’t have time to read through multiple pages of fluff about your every accomplishment and professional goal, and some don’t even read one full page. They want you to get to the point about what you’re trying to say, so make sure your letter is lean and to the point.

    As you write, there is no need to be overly stuffy, but you should add a little more polish than you would to an email you’d write to a coworker.

    Follow formatting guidelines for formal letters by including the recipient’s name and address as well as your own. Maintain a polite tone of voice and proofread your letter, getting someone else to check over it for you if possible.

    Within the parameters of professionalism, though, you should let your personality shine through.

    Hiring managers want to see what you’re passionate about in your work and why they should choose you for the position, so make sure you share how your values and skills line up with the organization’s and how you’d use them to help further the company.

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Author

Kristin Kizer

Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her talents and time with the wonderful Zippia audience.

Expert

Matt Warzel, CPRW, CIR

Matt Warzel a President of a resume writing firm (MJW Careers, LLC) with 15+ years of recruitment, outplacement, career coaching and resume writing experience. Matt is also a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Certified Internet Recruiter (CIR) with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (Marketing Focus) from John Carroll University.

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