Learn When (and When Not) to Include a Cover Letter With Your Resume
Do you really need a cover letter if a company doesn't ask for one? Composing a lot of cover letters during a job search can be challenging and time-consuming. Because of this, it's not surprising that applicants often hesitate to include a cover letter when it is not explicitly required by an employer.
If you're wondering if you should include a cover letter, the short answer is yes. You should almost always submit a cover letter, even if it is not required, but there are a few exceptions.
First, let's look at why cover letters have value.
Why it Makes Sense to Write a Cover Letter
If you're serious about landing the job, a well-written cover letter gives you a chance to sell yourself to the employer in a narrative format, and explain why you are an ideal candidate. A cover letter also affords you the opportunity to highlight your strongest qualifications.
An effective, customized cover letter will also make it clear that you are highly interested in the job. That's because it shows the hiring manager that you want the job enough to take the time to go the extra distance.
A cover letter also gives you an opportunity to include details that your resume does not contain. For example, if you are applying from a distance, your cover letter will enable you to present a rationale for relocation and to mention that you will be in the area shortly for a possible interview. Gaps in employment with reasonable explanations can also be addressed in your letter.
A cover letter is also an ideal place to provide specific examples that prove you have the skills and experience listed on your resume.
Additionally, employers often expect to receive cover letters even though they did not stipulate the need for a cover letter in their job advertisements. Candidates who don't take the time to compose a letter are often viewed as less motivated for the job.
In many cases, employers won't even look at a job application that doesn't contain a cover letter or letter of interest.
When Not to Include a Cover Letter
No letter is much better than a poorly written one. A well-composed cover letter serves as a sample of your writing ability but, unfortunately, the opposite is also true. If you don't have time to write a well-crafted cover letter that pitches your skills and positions you for the job, forego the effort.
Likewise, if the job application instructs that you should not include a cover letter, then it's definitely best to follow directions so as not to annoy your potential employer.
Also, if the company asks you to submit your application through an online platform, and there is no place for you to submit a cover letter, don't worry about it.
Tips for Writing a Cover Letter When It’s Not Required
- Write a targeted cover letter. Be sure to write a targeted letter. This is a cover letter written with the job listing in mind. Focus on the skills and abilities that you possess that make you a strong fit for the specific job.
- Keep it short. Make sure that your letters are concise (no more than one page topping out at five paragraphs) and that every statement you make conveys something significant about your qualifications for the candidacy.
- Go beyond the resume. Avoid simply repeating your resume. Provide examples not listed in your resume, and expand upon things mentioned only briefly in your resume. Your cover letter should have a distinct purpose in regards to your application.
- Edit, edit, edit. Errors in your cover letter can hurt your chances of getting an interview. Errors make you look sloppy, or worse, not educated. Be sure to thoroughly read your letter before submitting it. Consider asking a friend or colleague to read it as well to check for typos, grammatical errors, and confusing language.
Read More: How Long Should Your Cover Letter Be? | Cover Letter Examples and Tips | Targeted Cover Letters
What to Include in a Cover Letter
The cover letter serves as the first introduction to an employer, and it is an opportunity to convey one's viability as a strong candidate as well as one's ability to communicate in a polished, professional manner. It notes the specific position targeted while showcasing relevant qualifications the job seeker has to offer. In addition, it allows a job seeker to further explain any unusual circumstances in his or her background (e.g., gaps in employment, a return to the workforce, or change in career focus), demonstrate professionalism, and attract an interview.
With this in mind, it is best to ensure the cover letter aligns with common expectations by limiting it to one page and addressing a specific individual whenever possible. Include the company name and the recipient's name and title. Even when applying to a blind ad or box number one can use the ad information to personalize a cover letter.
A well-written, employer-centric cover letter will typically consist of three main parts: the introduction, the body, and the closing (which ends with a compelling action or request).
The introduction: Whenever possible, indicate how you came to apply to the company, such as...
- responding to an advertised opening
- having identified the company through research (do not use this if you didn't do the research as it may be obvious to the employer)
- reading about the company or its executives in a publication
- receiving a referral from John Jones at XYZ company
The body: It is important to highlight your qualifications and strengths as they relate to the requirements of the position. Amplify or augment information contained in your resume (rather than merely repeating it) and include a few strengths or personal qualities.
The closing: If the position was unadvertised and the resume is unsolicited, indicate that you will follow up in a few days. If you are responding to an advertised position, indicate you are looking forward to the opportunity to discuss how you can contribute to the success of the organization.
It is important to balance the tone of your cover letter. You want to be professional yet cautiously assertive. While a resume does not conform to standard writing styles (e.g., using personal pronouns, articles, and complete sentences), a cover letter does! Lastly, remember to focus on the employer's needs rather than your own (e.g., indicate what skills you will bring to the position to get the job done, rather than what you expect the employer to do for you).