Do I Need a Cover Letter?

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By DeVry University

March 22, 2022
5 min read

While they can be a great opportunity to reiterate your accomplishments and explain why you’d be a great fit for a job, do cover letters matter?

The answer is complicated.

Information about whether you still need a cover letter when applying for a job can be incredibly mixed. If you’ve been browsing job posts, you’ve probably noticed that many companies are still asking for cover letters, while others don’t mention them. Read on to understand why some recruiters have let cover letters fall by the wayside and others still find them valuable.

Why do I Need a Cover Letter?

The simple answer is that you don’t know when a recruiter may or may not read your cover letter, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Spend some time up front crafting a well written piece that you can easily modify to suit each job you apply for. Keep in mind however, that a cover letter should always be targeted to the specific job you’re applying to. Each job has its own set of unique requirements, so tailoring your cover letter to each job posting helps the reader connect the dots as to why you’re the best applicant for the job.

Do Recruiters Read Cover Letters?

Even when cover letters are required, some recruiters admit to not reading them while others feel that cover letters don’t impact their decision to interview candidates. So, do cover letters matter? Well, it depends.

If there is only a small pool of applicants, recruiters may take the time to read over each resume and cover letter to try and get a sense of each candidate’s personality and skillset. In other cases, there may not be enough time to read through every cover letter that comes in, so some recruiters will stick to just reading the resume.

Even if the recruiter isn’t reading your cover letter, that doesn’t mean no one else is. They may pass it on to the hiring manager, since they will be the one ultimately deciding if you are a good fit for their team. A cover letter can also help make a good impression if you’ve been directly recommended for a job through a coworker or a friend.

Another way cover letters can make a difference is with Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software. ATS software scans each applicant’s cover letter for keywords relevant to a job description. According to Job Search Coach Lynda Spiegel, having a cover letter can help your application rank higher in the recruiter’s system, and is a big reason why you should update your cover letter for each job you apply for. “The software searches for keywords that match keywords in the job description,” she explains, “you need to write one that uses the identical terminology in the job description, and that includes the employer’s name and job title.”

Cover letters optimized for ATS should be brief and specific, but there is one exception to this approach, Spiegel says, and that’s when you know your cover letter is going directly to a person. While cover letters sent to specific individuals should still be brief, you have a bit more freedom to write with a more conversational, personable tone while still being professional.

Can You Write a Cover Letter in an Email?

You absolutely can write a cover letter in an email. Chances are, even if a cover letter isn’t explicitly asked for in a job description, you may be directed to email your resume to the recruiter or the hiring manager. In this case, you may be better off writing an email cover letter, also called an e-letter.

E-letters follow the same general structure of traditional cover letters but should be slightly shorter and more concise, around 3 paragraphs.

In an article for The Muse, career strategist and recruiter Jenny Floss recommends keeping your email cover letter as friendly, but to the point as possible. Endear yourself to the recipient, she says, explain why you’re perfectly suited for the role, then wrap it up.

But never include both an email cover letter and a cover letter attachment in your application, Floss says. If you do choose to go the attachment route, simply include one line to direct the recipient to it.

“I happen to be a proponent of “cover letter as body of the email,” she writes, “it gives you the opportunity to make a strong, memorable first impression the millisecond that reviewer’s eyes open their inbox. You can draw someone in with an incredible opening line, and then showcase the ways in which you could contribute to the team.”

Is It Unprofessional to Not Have a Cover Letter?

Not necessarily. Some job postings will say that a cover letter is optional, or explicitly ask you not to submit a cover letter. But when you do have to write one, you should take the time to make sure that it’s well-written and sounds professional.

Cover Letter Writing Tips

Here are some tips for making your cover letter look and sound professional:

  • Find out who is receiving your application: Where possible, try and address your cover letter or email directly to the person receiving it using their first and last name. If you can’t find the name, their title will work. Ex: Dear Hiring Manager, Dear HR Department Lead.

  • Avoid using “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam:" According to Indeed, these openings can come across as impersonal or out-of-date.

  • Include the title of the job you’re applying for in the subject line: This helps the recruiter stay organized, and immediately signals to them that your email is important. It’s a good idea to include your name, the job title you’re applying for and the job number if available.

  • Proofread, proofread, proofread: Making sure your cover letter (and résumé) is free from spelling and grammar mistakes is incredibly important. Not only does it show that you’ve taken your application seriously, it also demonstrates attention to detail and professionalism. Don’t rely solely on spellcheck, though, which can autocorrect to the wrong word, update unique company names or accidentally miss important capitalizations. Instead, run your documents by a trusted friend or family member before submitting.

Thinking About a New Career?

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