In our discussions with job seekers it is not uncommon to hear this question. There is a large amount of conflicting advice as to whether or not submitting a cover letter along with a résumé is worth the trouble. It is an issue that, for some, can fall into the dreaded job search grey area. When dealing with ambiguity it is always best to arm yourself with the facts. Let’s look at each side of the debate.
Some of the commonly cited reasons for not bothering with cover letters include:
- Writing individualized, custom documents takes up a lot of time and energy and there is no guarantee that the intended recipient will ever read it
- Little or no return on investment- if it takes an hour to write, edit and submit a cover letter and you are applying for 6-8 positions you could easily use a whole day without any guarantee that it will be seen
- It is overwhelming enough to navigate the process to submit a résumé, never mind the additional effort involved in adding a cover letter
- Recruiters and employers hardly respond to résumé submissions and it is unlikely that adding a cover letter will change that
- There is not enough information in a typical job posting to support creating a customized cover letter
In defense of the cover letter:
- It offers your first opportunity to introduce yourself to a potential employer and provide a narrative that defines what you have to offer
- Cover letters are traditional and expected. If you do not take the time and effort it will be perceived as disrespectful and convey a lack of serious interest in a job
- Creating customized cover letters allows you to specifically address how you are a clear match for a job in support of your résumé
- It offers the possibility to show the recruiter a more personal side of you and stand out from a sea of candidates with similar qualifications
- A customized cover letter conveys your intention to connect with a specific employer and that you are not blindly applying for every job you see posted
So, what is a well-intentioned job seeker to do? Our advice is to err on the side of caution. Consider what could be lost by not submitting a cover letter. This is especially critical in the instances when the employer has specifically asked for one. It would be tragic to lose out on a potential job because you did not submit something that was clearly requested.
In order to simplify the cover letter process and save valuable time consider developing a well-crafted “general” cover letter that can be revised slightly for each submission. If you do not find many details about the employer in the job posting then do your research. The cover letter offers you a place to demonstrate that you understand the company’s needs and how you can contribute to their organizational goals.
The cover letter offers a platform to convey more of your soft-skills and allow your personality to shine through. This can be a critical component in differentiating yourself from the competition. Keep in mind that your ultimate goal is to secure an interview and providing a complete, attractive package increases your odds of getting that phone call.