Student Advice

Writing a Cover Letter: Is it Even Necessary?
Student Advisor posted on February 20, 2017 |

In a time of evolving recruitment trends, the necessity of writing a cover letter is frequently scrutinized.

There are various sides to the argument whether a cover letter enhances a job application, or if it’s simply a waste of time.

The question is a tough one. Some hiring managers will overlook cover letters, wasting all the time you put into writing one, while other hiring managers will automatically dismiss applications that omit them.

Here are some pros and cons of cover letter writing that can assist in determining whether or not to include a letter with your next job application.

When Writing a Cover Letter Makes Sense

Proponents of cover letter writing view this process as an opportunity for candidates to set themselves apart. The reality is that rival job seekers will often have the same qualifications listed on their resumes, placing greater importance on other ways of making an application stand out.

This means the cover latter can become an essential tool for job seekers who are looking to distinguish themselves from the rest of the field. It provides an opportunity to highlight unique selling points about your career and skillset that will catch the recruiter’s eye. This is a line of thinking that qualifies the process of writing a cover letter as a branding opportunity.

Given the limited amount of space available to tell a career story via a resume, cover letters also provide an opportunity to expand on some of the points listed in fact-based form. This is a chance for candidates to personalize their application by giving greater detail about their career highlights, and what led them to the application at hand.

Just like a resume, a cover letter tells the hiring manager the story of a candidate’s professional past, but it also provides an opportunity to add more details about what makes that story unique.

This leads to another strong aspect of cover letter writing: it can be a platform through which the candidate highlights their potential to do great things for a new organization. While the information in resumes tends to be dry and business-like, the cover letter functions as the opposite; it is a chance for candidates to express themselves and give prospective employers some insight into their personality, accomplishments and drive.

This is where candidates impress recruiters with a ‘wow’ factor and reveal more about the energy they can bring to the new job.

Ditching the Cover Letter

For all of its virtues, there are times when a cover letter does not need to accompany a job application. Firstly, many applications don’t specify the need for one, or will explicitly state that it should not be included; this is an obvious time to omit the letter. Furthermore, if the online platform through which applications are submitted does not have a section to submit a cover letter or additional materials, leave the letter out.

There are, however, some additional factors that may convince applicants to exclude the cover letter.  

Firstly, in light of the growing prominence of Application Tracking Systems (ATC) in modern recruitment, cover letter writing may become obsolete. Once a resume ticks the right keyword boxes in an ATC, a hiring manager will scrutinize it more closely and potentially short list the candidate without reviewing their cover letter.

Additionally, if you are in the habit of distributing generic cover letters that fail to address the key criteria of a job, you may as well not send one at all. Recruiters are equipped with the skills to spot generic write-ups that are distributed en masse, and will view candidates that do so as lazy and complacent.

If you are going to go to the effort of writing a cover letter, you might as well do it properly and make it targeted, well written and to the point. Otherwise, channel your energy into building an outstanding resume and leave it at that.

The Consensus

While the resume is undoubtedly the meat of any job application, and the best –sometimes only – chance to stand out, the cover letter more often than not enhances prospects of employment.

When it is explicitly stated not to include a cover letter, candidates should follow the application instructions. However, whether or not you feel that a hiring manager will read your cover letter, the risk of leaving it out can be too high. Sure, writing a cover letter can be laborious and time consuming, particularly when there is no guarantee it will be read, but it remains a strong opportunity to get an edge over rival candidates and is a key tool for landing job interviews