FAQ: Is a Cover Letter Necessary? (Plus What Optional Means)

Jennifer Herrity

Updated December 1, 2022

Published February 25, 2020

Jennifer Herrity is a seasoned career services professional with 12+ years of experience in career coaching, recruiting and leadership roles with the purpose of helping others to find their best-fit jobs. She helps people navigate the job search process through one-on-one career coaching, webinars, workshops, articles and career advice videos on Indeed's YouTube channel.

Illustration of a person holding a pen and checking over a document, perhaps a resume or a business report.

Cover letters have long been a key part of the job application process. However, some now suggest that modern recruiting methods may make cover letters obsolete. Are they still necessary and what does optional actually mean in job postings when it comes to the cover letter?

In this article, we’ll explore whether you still need to write and submit a cover letter with your resume and provide you with some templates and an example for when you’re ready to write and send your own.

Key takeaways:

  • In general, a cover letter can only help your job application—unless the job posting specifically requests you not submit one, that is.

  • The impact of a well-written, error-free cover letter can potentially mean the difference between landing a job interview or not.

  • If a job posting says submitting a cover letter is optional, err on the side of caution and submit a great one.

Is a cover letter necessary?

Do employers still care about cover letters? Yes to both questions. Even if your cover letter goes through the application process unread, an employer may still expect to see it attached to your resume. This is especially true if the hiring manager asked for a cover letter as part of the job posting.

Inclusion of a cover letter also shows the employer that you take the job opportunity seriously and that you’re prepared to take more initiative to be considered for the open position. It's also possible the hiring manager will actually look at your cover letter when selecting applicants to interview.

Related: Resume Format Guide (With Tips and Examples)

What optional really means

If a job posting says submitting a cover letter is optional, take this to mean that a cover letter would be a welcomed addition to your application and also, take it as an opportunity to show the employer not only your initiative but your writing skills. An optional cover letter ultimately leaves the decision up to you, and as noted above, taking the time to write a thoughtful cover letter could prove a positive to your candidacy, especially for a competitive role.

Tip: Cover letters complement resumes, providing additional context to your candidate profile.

Related: Cover Letter Basics (With Tips and Template)

Why cover letters can be important

A cover letter gives you the chance to highlight anything on your resume in more detail, as well as to point out your special qualifications for the open position. A resume documents your skills, education and experience. With a cover letter, you can make the connection between the resume and the job.

This could mean you may not have to customize your resume as much for each job application, since you can use your cover letter to show how your skills and experience are relevant. Your cover letter also allows you to show your writing skills, which is important for creative and administrative roles. These could all be important considerations for the hiring manager when selecting quality candidates for an interview.

Related: 7 Powerful Ways to Start a Cover Letter (With Examples)

When should you include a cover letter?

As for whether or not employers care about cover letters still, keep in mind there are certain occasions when you will need to include a cover letter with your resume. These include:

  • When the job application tells you to include a cover letter

  • If the hiring manager or recruiter asks for a cover letter

  • When you know the hiring manager by name or have an existing relationship

  • If someone referred you to the job, in which case you should mention who referred you in the cover letter

Tip: Customize your cover letter to the job you’re applying to and give the employer an idea of how your particular skill set will help you in the role.

Related: Application Letter vs. Cover Letter: Definitions and Differences

When not to include a cover letter

On the other hand, there may be times when you shouldn’t include a cover letter with your resume. For example, if the job application explicitly states that you should not send a cover letter or if the application process doesn't provide a way for you to submit a cover letter with your resume, which can sometimes happen with online application forms. Submitting a cover letter in these instances might alert the hiring manager to the fact that you didn’t follow the instructions.

Related: The Hiring Process: What To Expect at Every Stage

Cover letter templates

Here are two cover letter templates you can consider, depending on your application:

Cover letter without resume

You can use this template to guide you when creating your own cover letter. After deciding on the information you’d like to include in your letter, you can change the wording to suit your own style and the tone of the business.

[Your name, address, email address and phone number(s), either as a header or on the left side of the page]

[Date]

Re: [exact job title] position

Dear [Mr./Ms.] [hiring manager's name],

I was excited to find the above open position at [company name] and would like you to consider me for the job.

As you can see from my resume, I have [relevant recent experience, including the number of years and a brief description of what you did].

[Paragraph providing any additional experience and education that fits with the job requirements and demonstrates your suitability for the position].

Thank you for your time and consideration. Feel free to contact me [best time to contact or "anytime" if you have no preference] at the above number if you would like to schedule an interview.

Sincerely,
[Your name]

Cover letter with resume

If you’re writing an email with your resume attached, you can adapt this cover letter template to fit that format. You can also use this format for an online submission form where space is provided for a cover letter. For example:

Subject: [exact job title] position

Dear [Mr./Ms.] [hiring manager's name],

I was excited to find the [job title] position at [company name] and would like you to consider me for the job. [A brief statement explaining why you want to work for the company].

As you can see from my attached resume, I have [relevant recent experience, including the number of years and a brief description of what you did].

[Paragraph providing any additional experience and education that fits with the job requirements and demonstrates your suitability for the position].

Thank you for your time and consideration. Feel free to contact me [best time to contact or "anytime" if you have no preference] if you would like to schedule an interview.

Sincerely,
[Your name]
[Your phone number(s)]

Related: Cover Letter Samples and Templates

Here’s an example of a completed cover letter using the templates above. Use this as a guide to creating your own:

Jasmine Jones
123 Fourth Street
Boulder, CO 80309
jazjones@email.com
(720) 555-5432

Mr. Trent Jennings
Development Manager
CMI Web Solutions
222 Corporate Park Road
Boulder, CO 80301

Re: Web Developer position

Dear Mr. Jennings,

I was excited to find the above open position at CMI Web Solutions and would like you to consider me for the job. I have great admiration for CMI's willingness to explore new technology and also their sense of corporate responsibility. I believe the skills I have will contribute to CMI's continued success and give me an opportunity to grow in my career.

As you can see from my resume, I have worked at Boulder Interactive Solutions for the past five years as a programmer/analyst. While there, I have utilized my Python, CSS and HTML skills to create or redesign numerous client websites. Each of these projects required client interaction and negotiation to bring their vision to life. Also, over the last six months, I have been given supervisory responsibility for two junior developers. This has helped hone my delegation and training skills.

My previous work experience includes maintaining Java-based call center software and developing productivity applications in Visual Basic. In my spare time, I volunteer at a local rescue shelter maintaining the website I developed for them three years ago (www.boulderanimalrescue.com).

Thank you for your time and consideration. Feel free to contact me anytime at the above number if you would like to schedule an interview.

Sincerely,
Jasmine Jones

Download Cover Letter Template
To upload the template into Google Docs, go to File > Open > and select the correct downloaded file.

Related: Cover Letter Do's and Dont's

Tips for writing a cover letter

  • Follow the instructions: In addition to noting whether the job posting specifies if you should include a resume or not (or if it’s optional), also pay attention to any instruction(s) regarding the cover letter’s content. Some job postings might add a particular instruction as part of their screening.

  • Be concise: Cover letters should not go beyond a page in length. Half a page or a page (or 250 to 400 words) is a good letter length to try and meet, which will also help showcase your writing skills as well, the more concise you can be.

  • Use the right tone: Your cover letter is your first opportunity to let the hiring manager know about you. Be sure to maintain a professional tone in your cover letter, but also express your enthusiasm about the role. Be positive.

  • Showcase your communication skills: As noted, this is your chance to showcase how well you write and how you write about yourself. Include what you feel is most important for the hiring manager to know about and how you can help the company meet its objectives in this role.

  • Proofread: While spelling mistakes are understandable at times, certain typos will be less so, such as if you misspell the company’s name or the person to whom you addressed your letter. In addition to a well-written cover letter, make sure it’s error-free and leaves a strong impression.


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