Should You Include a Cover Letter? With Expert Tips
Updated August 31, 2023
When applying for jobs, you may wonder whether to include a cover letter with your application. Some job descriptions indicate whether to do so, while others may make no mention of cover letters. Understanding standard practices regarding cover letters can help you properly highlight your qualifications and improve your chances of advancing to the interview stage.
In this article, we discuss whether you should include a cover letter with your job application and share tips for writing a compelling document.
Even if the job description doesn't require a cover letter, submitting one can demonstrate your enthusiasm for the job and help you differentiate yourself from other candidates.
It's appropriate to exclude a cover letter if the job description specifies candidates to do so or if you don't have enough time to customize your letter for each position.
Tips for writing an effective cover letter include including relevant keywords, using proper formatting and contextualizing your resume qualifications.
Should you include a cover letter?
You can determine whether to include a cover letter with your application by reviewing the job description. If the employer requests cover letters from candidates, ensure you include one to demonstrate your ability to follow directions. Providing this information can also help an employer determine whether they'd like to progress your application to the next stage of the hiring process.
If the job description doesn't mention cover letters or states that they're optional, you can still consider including one. Cover letters are an opportunity for you to explain in detail what distinguishes you from other candidates, so submitting one may make your application more compelling. Submitting this extra document may also demonstrate your enthusiasm for the position and willingness to exceed expectations.
Why include a cover letter?
The headline on the image says, "Cover letter format"
A woman sits at a table writing on a piece of paper. There's a simple cover letter represented by lines. On one side of the cover letter, there are labels for the sections of the cover letter. The labels are:
1. Date and contact information
3. First, introduce yourself
4. List relevant experience in the middle
5. Express gratitude in the closing
6. Professional close and signature
Here are some benefits of including a cover letter in your job application:
1. They showcase your personality
Cover letters typically reveal insights into a candidate's values, character traits and outlook on work. Many hiring managers prefer candidates who align with the organization's culture, so highlighting your unique personality in your cover letter may help you present yourself as a good fit for the job.
Some jobs also benefit from particular personality traits that you can showcase in your cover letter. For example, if you're applying to be a kindergarten teacher, you might use friendly and optimistic language to demonstrate your ability to work with children.
2. They explain your connection to the job
You can discuss why you're interested in the job in your cover letter, which could help hiring managers view you as dedicated and enthusiastic. Cover letters typically include details about why you chose to apply to a specific company and what made you interested in the field you're pursuing. Sharing your passion for the job and your connection to the organization might help you stand out from other candidates.
3. They can address gaps and concerns
Your cover letter is a suitable place to proactively address potential concerns on your resume and explain why these details make you unique. You can frame details like employment gaps, incomplete degrees or short-term positions in a positive way. Consider using your cover letter to discuss why these events occurred and how they facilitated your professional development. You could also use your cover letter to explain that you're willing to relocate for the position if you currently live in a different area.
For example, maybe you took time off of work to recover from an injury. You could share this information in your cover letter to alleviate any concerns and explain how it built your reliance and helped you become more diligent about safety in the workplace. Your cover letter is an opportunity to contextualize your background and speak positively about your prior experiences.
4. They make you a more competitive candidate
A cover letter can make you a more competitive candidate by allowing you to elaborate on your resume qualifications and demonstrate your written communication skills. For instance, consider two candidates who have similar qualifications and apply for the same role. A hiring manager might read their cover letters to differentiate between them and select the right candidate for an interview. Additionally, you can use your cover letter to include information such as referrals that might be unconventional to include on a resume.
When not to include a cover letter
Consider excluding a cover letter from your application if the job description instructs candidates not to include one. Following these instructions demonstrates that you respect the employer's time and know how to interpret directions. Try reading the job posting carefully to determine if the employer considers a cover letter optional or prefers you leave it off entirely. When applying without a cover letter, try reviewing your resume to ensure it includes all the information you want to communicate to the employer.
Other situations in which it's appropriate to exclude a cover letter from your application are as follows:
You don't have enough time to customize your cover letters for each position.
The job application platform doesn't offer an opportunity for you to upload a cover letter.
What to include in a cover letter
Here are some elements that successful cover letters often feature:
It's standard to begin your cover letter with a header that includes your name, location, phone number and email address. You could also add a link to a portfolio or personal website to direct employers to relevant work samples. Try to ensure the links you add are an accurate representation of your career and skills.
While your resume and other application materials might include your contact information, including this information in your cover letter as well demonstrates professionalism and consistency. It also makes it easier for employers to contact you to schedule interviews.
Consider customizing each cover letter to the individual hiring manager and position you want by incorporating specific keywords that align with the job posting. Many organizations rely on applicant tracking systems (ATS) that scan applications for relevant skills and experiences.
Try analyzing the job description and highlighting some of the key qualifications that align with your skills. Including a mix of hard and soft skills may help you appeal to recruiters and proceed in the hiring process. Depending on the job you're applying for, common soft skills to incorporate into cover letters include leadership, communication, multitasking and teamwork.
Read more: Your Guide to Cover Letter Keywords
Consider sharing achievements you've garnered in previous roles or during your education to demonstrate your application of acquired skills. You can quantify your achievements by stating percentage changes or indicating the size of a project you managed. If you've won any awards or participated in notable projects, you can discuss these accomplishments and explain why they make you a suitable candidate for the position. For instance, you might indicate that you raised a certain amount of money for a nonprofit to demonstrate your work ethic and passion for helping others.
Tips for writing an effective cover letter
Here are some tips that may help you improve your cover letter:
After you finish writing your cover letter, consider proofreading it. You can identify opportunities to use more specific language and read it aloud to ensure it flows well. You might also analyze the letter's spelling, grammar and punctuation to address any errors. Additionally, you can use proofreading software on your computer and recruit a friend or a professional colleague to peer review your letter.
Use proper formatting
Cover letters are formal business letters, so try to use proper formatting to demonstrate your professionalism. Submitting a clean, legible letter may also help you showcase your thoroughness and attention to detail. Appropriate formatting guidelines for cover letters include:
10-point or 12-point font size
A classic, readable font
One page or less
Use specific language
The words you choose in your cover letter can help you stand out from other candidates, so try using action verbs and descriptive adjectives. You can make a list of traits you possess and brainstorm unique ways to describe them.
For example, if you view yourself as hard-working and nice, you might use words like "industrious" and "congenial." This language may elevate your cover letter, showcase your vocabulary and writing skills and offer employers a clearer view of your unique personality.
Follow submission guidelines
Every employer has preferences for how you submit your job application. Consider reading the job posting carefully to understand the instructions for preparing and uploading your application materials. For example, some employers request candidates submit their cover letters in a Portable Document Format (PDF). Another employer might want you to email your cover letter to them instead of submitting it through a portal.
Frequently asked questions
Is a cover letter necessary for a part-time job?
When determining whether to submit a cover letter when applying for a part-time job, consider the same guidelines regarding cover letters and full-time jobs. It's advisable to submit a cover letter for a part-time role unless the job description indicates otherwise.
Is a cover letter necessary for an entry-level job?
A cover letter can be a good addition to your application for an entry-level job. This document allows you to compensate for a lack of professional experience by discussing your education, volunteer work or transferable skills. It also helps you demonstrate your personality and enthusiasm to work for the organization.
Do employers read a resume or cover letter first?
Most employers read resumes first to determine if you have the appropriate qualifications for the position. Then, they read cover letters to obtain more context.
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