Essentially a relic of a time when resumes were mailed or faxed, a traditional paper cover letter is basically a full-page document that showcases your qualifications.
The traditional format is strict: a header with your name, contact information and date, along with a salutation, three body paragraphs, a thank you and a signature. And it should be specific to the job you’re applying for, highlighting the reasons you are a good choice for this specific position.
Some, as we found on Twitter, see it as an unnecessary form of unpaid labor that shouldn’t be required anymore – but that won’t get you out of writing one if a job listing requires it.
Every time a job application doesn't require a cover letter, an angel gets an hour of their life back. Thank you @AKQA for making the job application process feasible for those whose current responsibilities preclude them from investing significant labor into unpaid work.
— Sonia Weiser (@weischoice) February 12, 2021
We posed the question “cover letter or no cover letter?” on Technical.ly’s public Slack, and found that, for at least some applicants, if the description doesn’t specify a cover letter requirement, they will opt out and not do one.
“Only if invited or solicited during the process,” replied software developer Colin Dean.
Jobseekers can just skip job listings that require a cover letter, but the fact is, conceptually, the cover letter does have value to a lot of hiring managers – and a good one might even get you a second look if you’re resume isn’t the strongest.
“I include it [as an applicant] because it’s a way to show my interest,” said community member Holly. “However, as an employer, I wouldn’t dock for lack of a cover letter, especially if their resume was strong and told the story. If an applicant’s resume seemed a little weak, but they had an amazing cover letter, it would put them back in the pile — I’d at least want to talk to them.”
Hiring managers aren’t necessarily looking for a traditional cover letter, however. A bright spot for cover letter haters is that in the digital age, your email often functions as your cover letter — and an effective “cover email” doesn’t have to be a three-paragraph essay, thanks to the more succinct, mobile-friendly rules of email etiquette.
“From a hiring point of view, a good cover letter or email can catch my eye and make someone stand out,” said Amy Morais, the director of digital products for a marketing company. “So I wouldn’t dock someone for not having one, and if their resume or work samples are strong, they would also get my interest, but it can definitely help. They can be short though. One of the best ones I got was a two- or three-sentence email. Like Holly said, it made me want to talk to them.”
Dear Job Applicants please don’t just drop your CV and Cover letter (CL) in an email and say “ Please find attached” or “Please find attached my CV”.
Make an effort to draft a simple cover email. Most times no one reads your CLs; they see your cover mails and look at your CV.
— N.J.G. Garrick (@thegarrick_) September 13, 2022
Our own Julie Zeglen, the managing editor of Technical.ly, takes it a step further on the hiring side, specifically asking applicants to keep it short and sweet:
“I started asking for just a short note of why they’re interested in the role in an email with their resume attached, and it’s way easier on everyone involved,” Zeglen said. “We’ll talk more in our first-round interview!”
A cover letter may or may not be mandatory, but some kind of introduction when you’re emailing your resume is a must.
And if you are required to write a traditional cover letter, resist the temptation to use one of the many cut-and-paste templates on the internet. Give them a good, honest assessment of why you think you would be a good fit in your own words (and, more importantly, your own voice).
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