Should you always send a cover letter?
Do you always have to submit a cover letter, or can you skip it? We checked in with a panel of career experts to find out.
Cover letters could give you an advantage.
You found an exciting new job posting and are getting ready to submit your resume, but what about a cover letter? Is it always necessary to spend time writing a cover letter, or are there times you can get away without one? We checked in with a panel of career experts to find out.
Pro: Cover letters can set you apart
“Skip the cover letter, and you miss out on an opportunity to sell yourself,” says Evelyn Salvador, author of Step-by-Step Cover Letters: Build a Cover Letter in 10 Easy Steps Using Personal Branding and principal of Creative Image Builders, a resume-development and career-coaching firm in Coram, New York.
Sending a cover letter along with a resume helps you build your brand the same way an advertising company promotes a product’s brand. “A well-defined brand wins interviews, maximizes salary potential and puts job seekers in the top 2 percent of candidates considered for positions,” Salvador says.
Think of your cover letter as another tool in your job search arsenal, says Betty Corrado, owner of career-coaching and resume-writing firm Career Authenticity in Cos Cob, Connecticut. “The cover letter is a key part of your marketing package,” she says. “Use it as an opportunity to convey your brand and value proposition.”
Pro: Cover letters let you reveal your personality and build rapport
A resume tends to be fact-based and somewhat formal, but a cover letter can be infused with personality. “Don’t be afraid to inject personal notes about interests or philosophies that may help employers determine if you will fit into their culture,” says Roleta Fowler Vasquez, professional resume writer and owner of Wordbusters in Fillmore, California. To increase the “wow” factor of their cover letters, she encourages applicants to add a few standout accomplishments that don’t appear on the resume.
Laila Atallah, a Seattle career counselor and owner of Career Counseling with a Twist, agrees that a cover letter can be more revealing than a resume. “The best cover letters are infused with energy, personality and details about the applicant’s skills and achievements,” she says. “I get a sense of the person and what they’ve accomplished, and it’s easier for me to picture them in their next job.”
Job seekers often make the mistake of sending a resume without a cover letter, says Ann Baehr, president of Best Resumes of New York in East Islip, New York. “This is a missed opportunity to establish rapport with employers and provide a sense of who they are beyond their work experience,” she says.
Thinking about skipping the cover letter when applying for an internal position? Don't. Use the cover letter to show how well you understand your employer’s mission and remind management of how much you have already accomplished.
Include a cover letter even if a colleague is submitting your resume for you. The letter is a chance to introduce yourself and mention your contact as a reminder that you are a referral. This is what a cover letter should include, should you decide to send one.
Pro: Cover letters let you tell a story
The cover letter can include information that would be out of place on the resume. “Job seekers can include the name of a mutual contact or referral, state how they would benefit the employer if hired and explain tricky situations such as changing careers, relocating, returning to the workforce and so on,” Baehr says.
Atallah encourages job seekers to learn about the requirements of the job opening and use the cover letter to express how and why they are uniquely qualified. “Use your cover letter to tell a story,” she says. “Studies show that stories are memorable and engaging, and cover letters are a perfect vehicle for expressing your successes in a more storylike format.”
When not to send a cover letter
Given all the reasons to send a cover letter, is it ever a good idea not to? “If the application instructions expressly say not to include a cover letter, or if an online application offers no opportunity, then you can forego the cover letter in these cases,” Atallah says.
Vasquez agrees that you should not send a cover letter when the employer specifically says not to. “This may be a test of your ability to follow directions,” she says.
What if you think the cover letter won’t be read? Corrado says that while some hiring managers say they don’t read cover letters, those who do may dismiss your application if you don’t send one. “Why take this chance when you need every possible advantage in this job market?” she asks.
While writing cover letters is time-consuming, the consensus is that the effort could give you an edge and help you land more interviews.
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- Be sure to include a meaningful subject line;
- Just like a written business letter, be sure to use address your audience with the proper formality.
- Begin your email with a salutation, or greeting:
- Dear Dr. Jones, or
- Ms. Smith:
- Use standard spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.
- Do not use text language
- THERE'S NOTHING WORSE THAN AN EMAIL SCREAMING A MESSAGE IN ALL CAPS.
- Do not, under any circumstance, use emoticons:
- It is forbidden to use anything like J or L
- Write clear, short paragraphs and be direct and to the point.
- Employers see their email accounts as business. Don't write unnecessarily long emails or otherwise waste the employer's time
- Be friendly and cordial, but don't try to joke around
- witty remarks may be uncalled for and, more commonly, may not come off appropriately in email
- Include your cover letter and resume as instructed by the employer
- As separate attachments, or
- As pasted into the body of your email
Make sure you list the position you are applying for in the subject line of your email address, so the employer is clear as to what job you are applying for. This helps clarify what your message is about and may also help the employer prioritize reading your email.Be sure to include the job code if one was given in the job posting.
Here is an example:
Formal (Written to an unknown audience):
I am applying for the customer service associate position advertised in the Denver Post. I am an excellent candidate for the job because of my significant retail experience, my good language skills, and my sense of courtesy and respect. I have attached a cover letter and a resume as you requested in your job posting.
Hi!!!!!! J I like read that u was lookin for a associate or whatever. I think that i’m good for that job cuz i've done stuff like that b4, am good with words, and am good at not disrespectin people and stuff. Text me if u want 2 c my rez. Thx!!!! J
Emailing a cover letter
There are two main ways employers like to receive resumes and cover letters:
- pasted into the body of an email and
- as separate attachments
Sending separate attachments
Unless an employer specifically asks for you to include your cover letter and your resume in the body of your email, send them as separate email attachments.You should always write a real cover letter and attach it to the email. Your letter may be passed around from one manager to the next, and a printed or photocopied email used in that situation looks unprofessional; it looks as if you didn't bother to write a letter.
Send your cover letter and resume as separate PDFs or separate Word documents, because those two forms of electronic documents are the most common.
Pasting a cover letter and resume in the body of an email
Some employers do not accept email attachments. In these cases, paste your resume into your email message. Use a simple font and remove the fancy formatting. Don't use HTML. You don't know what email program the employer is using, so keep your message simple, because the employer may not see a formatted message the same way you do.
But how, then, should you use the email?
Your email should give enough information about you and about the goal of your communication so that you could be contacted – even without the attachments.
- Always use an informative signature when you apply for a job. Use a signature that is informative.Include your name, address, phone, and a professional looking email address.
I am a recent graduate of McLain Community High School applying for a customer service position with your store. I have attached the resume, cover letter and transcript that you requested to this email. If you have questions or need more information, you may reach me through the phone number or email below.
I look forward to hearing from you,
Send the message to yourself first to test that the formatting works. If everything looks good, resend to the employer.
Double Check Your Letter
Make sure you spell check and check your grammar and capitalization. They are just as important in an email cover letter as in paper cover letters.
What sorts of information shouldn't be sent via email?
Most people do not realize that email is not as private as it may seem. Without additional setup, email is not encrypted; meaning that your email is "open" and could possibly be read by an unintended person as it is sent to your reader. With that in mind, never send the following information over email:
- Usernames and passwords
- Credit card or other account information
Additionally, avoid sensitive information, complaints, or gossip that could be potentially damaging to someone's career and/or reputation, including your own. Beyond email's general lack of security and confidentiality, your recipient can always accidentally hit the Forward button, leave her email account open on a computer, or print and forget that she's printed a copy of your email.