Writing a Cover Letter: Is it Even Necessary?

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Cover letters as we know them started gaining momentum in the early 1950s, and by the mid-1960s had become a regular requirement for job vacancies. But with the rising popularity of social media profiles and CV scanning software more than 60 years later, their usefulness today is being called into question.

But does that mean that they are officially dead? Are they obsolete like music cassette tapes, floppy disks and film cameras? Or are they still an essential component of the 21st Century job search?

Join us as we explore the importance of cover letters and set out to answer the one question on all jobseekers’ minds: are cover letters even necessary?

How Important Are Cover Letters?

It’s no secret that writing a cover letter is the bane of every jobseeker’s existence – in fact, many people find writing this one-page document just as hard as writing a CV.

Indeed, it’s no walk in the park, but it is often the most important part of your job application. That’s because no matter how in-depth and well-written your CV is, it doesn’t quite tell potential employers your whole story.

Your cover letter, though, can. When done right, it can help you make a strong case for your suitability for the role, as well as build rapport with the hiring manager that your CV otherwise won’t. Done wrong, however, it can completely blow your chances of getting the job you’re applying for.

Essentially, think of your CV as a shop window which puts all your goods (your relevant skills, qualities and experience) on display for potential employers. Your cover letter is the sign or billboard that attracts them to the window in the first place.

In other words, cover letters matter – and they matter the most.

Do Hiring Managers Even Read Them?

This really depends on who you ask.

In fact, various surveys have been conducted over the years, sometimes reporting polar-opposite findings from one another. A 2015 survey by recruiting software firm Jobvite, for example, found that 55% of recruiters don’t read them, while the DuPage Career Centre in Illinois, US found that 93% of HR professionals actually do.

Personally, I always read – or at least skim through – cover letters submitted as part of a job application. And it’s not just me: a quick company-wide survey reveals that 100% of hiring managers do the same thing! That statistic will, of course, vary from company to company, but the fact remains that (for the most part) a large number of managers, recruiters and HR administrators do indeed read them.

So, Should You Send a Cover Letter?

The short answer is: yes.

Yes, you should.

The general consensus is that you should (almost) always send a cover letter along with your CV, even if it’s not required. As mentioned previously, a well-written letter is a great opportunity to make a strong case for your candidacy, so why waste it? It also demonstrates your motivation.

And remember: cover letters have become a staple of the job application process, so much so that hiring managers actually expect you to submit one, even if they don’t explicitly ask you to. The truth is they’ll probably think your application is incomplete without one.

Another reason why you should consider sending a letter when it’s ‘optional’ is that many people don’t. In fact, in a recent survey by Jobvite, 47% of about 2,000 respondents admitted to skipping the cover letter altogether. Sure, you could follow their lead, but choosing to spend a little time writing a letter to accompany your CV will give you an extra edge over the candidates who didn’t bother.

When Should You NOT Send One?

The only time it’s ever okay to not send a letter is when the job ad specifically tells you not to. In fact, sending one in this case would only hurt your chances of getting an interview. After all, if you’re unable to follow an instruction as simple as ‘No cover letters, please’, hiring managers will automatically assume that you’re rebellious and difficult to work with – so, why would they consider hiring you?

Meanwhile, if you’re applying for a job online and there’s nowhere to upload a cover letter, don’t worry about it – you don’t need one. On that note, it’s always a good idea to avoid filling out an online application form and to instead email your application directly to a hiring manager or recruiter. Not only does this show initiative on your part but it also makes sure it gets seen by the right person.

What Should You Consider If You Do Send One?

If you’ve chosen to go ahead and submit a cover letter along with your application, there are a few things to keep in mind before you hit that ‘Send’ button. Below are a few tips for writing your letter and avoiding common mistakes.

  • Tailor your letter to the job: As you (hopefully) would for your CV, read the job description to identify important keywords and phrases, and find ways to naturally incorporate these into your letter.
  • Don’t regurgitate your CV: The whole point of your cover letter is to tell the employer what exactly it is that attracted you to the specific role in the first place and why you want to join their company. It also gives you the freedom to expand on – not recycle – the points you made in your CV.
  • Keep it to one page: Generally speaking, your letter should consist of three or four paragraphs across a single A4 page. Anything more than this and you risk writing a novel. That said, writing too little can be just as bad as writing too much.
  • Use a model: If you’re having trouble writing your letter, take a look at some sample letters online for a little inspiration. On that note, only use these as a guide – don’t just copy a template word for word.
  • Inject some personality: For the most part, cover letters tend to be bland and uniform in nature, so it’s important to go against the norm and make your letter sound more like you. Ensure you still keep it professional, though.
  • Proofread and proofread again: The last thing you want to do is send a letter riddled with grammar and spelling mistakes. It will only make you look careless and unprofessional, and as a result no willing employer will consider hiring you.

Whether or not you need a cover letter depends on your particular situation, but as mentioned above, it is generally a good idea to submit one along with your application - unless, of course, the job description asks you not to.

Remember: there’s a big difference between ‘no cover letters, please’ and ‘no cover letter, no response’, and confusing the two could end up costing your chances of being extended an interview invitation and, indeed, a job offer.

What do you think? Are cover letters a necessary part of the job application process or should you skip them entirely? Are they still relevant, even in 2018? And what if a letter has not been requested in the job ad – should you provide one, anyway?

Join the conversation down below and let us know!