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To Send or Not to Send a Cover Letter

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Please Tell Me, Once and for All, When Do I Need (and not need) a Cover Letter?

3 September 2018
struggling with cover letter submission decision

Introduction

A few short years ago I read an article pronouncing that the age of cover letters was at an end.  “Dead,” was the word a recruiter used.  A mere formality of a bygone era – tossed onto the trash heap of history in the name of efficiency.  Given the creeping informality of communications in the information age, the assertion seemed reasonable.  

A few months later I was applying for a job and was left with a clear ‘option’regarding the submission of a cover letter along with the other application material.  Hmmm…  I was overcome by a momentary hesitation. Was this some sort of test?  

On one hand, is the prospective employer telling me, “if you’ve got the time to waste creating it, we’ll take your cover letter?”  On the other hand, were they saying, “we need 'go-getters' and this option on the cover letter is our first test.”  I decided I had the time to waste and submitted a cover letter.

So, what’s the correct answer?  A well written, aesthetic, properly organized and formatted cover letter should be considered a requirement for applying to any professional position – unless you have a very good reason not to include one.  We’ll talk about cover letter quality in a future blog post, but here is an excellent source of well designed cover letters.  For now, let’s examine what you gain by including a cover letter and when it’s alright to skip the cover letter altogether.    

Why It’s Always a Good Idea to Include a Cover Letter

First off, a cover letter will make a good impression on employers, period. Even if a cover letter is not really expected by the employer, a good cover letter may very well provide important information that could make a real difference during the selection process.  Let’s look at how.

Cover letters allow you to show off personal characteristics above and beyond the mechanics of a resume or even a portfolio of work. It allows you to tell a story and sell yourself.

a detailed cover letter template

It empowers you to highlight skills either not in the resume or not properly specified for a given job offer.  Even if you’reengaged in the dubious practice of retaining multiple resumes for various job advertisement contingencies, a cover letter can still offer fine tuning without the resume modifications.  If you’re more of a single resume person like myself, then a detail adding cover letter is a blessing and a requirement.

Cover letters allow you to show off personal characteristics above and beyond the mechanics of a resume or even a portfolio of work.  It allows you to tell a story and sell yourself.

Cover letters give you a chance to specify experiential knowledge factors that may not be practical in a resume but might be an important factor in the hiring decision.  In other words, you’ll get to add some specificity to your own experience.

If there are elements of your application that require explanation, or you want to alleviate concerns a employer may have – such as employment gaps or short falls in experience – a cover letter is where you’ll provide that information.  Bottom line – your cover letter provides a compelling case for you to be the one selected.  Finally, always submit a cover letter in the following situations:

  • If the job offer mandates a cover letter
  • If the employer, hiring manager,or recruiter requests one
  • If you’re applying directly to a person and know their name
  • If someone has referred you for the position
  • If you know something about the job and the position

When not to Include a Cover Letter

If the employer specifies the artifacts required for an application and makes no mention of a cover letter, or no facilities are available to submit a cover letter (such as the ability to upload one), then forego the cover letter submission.

Likewise, if the job application or recruiter instructs you not include a cover letter, then it's best to follow directions and not annoy your potential employer.

A final note on whether to include a cover letter with your employment application.  If you’re not going to deliver a professional and engaging cover letter – then no cover letter is probably better than submitting one.

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Written By:
Kerrie Gill, PMP, ITIL
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