Do You Need a Cover Letter to Apply for a Job?

When You Should Submit a Cover Letter With a Resume

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Do you really need a cover letter when you apply for jobs? Can you get by with just a resume? How about if the company doesn't ask for a cover letter?

Should you include a cover letter even when it's not required? With today’s competitive job market, the answers to these questions are important. In most cases, a cover letter will only help your candidacy for the job. Done right, a cover letter is a way to highlight your most relevant skills and qualifications for the job.

Your cover letter is a good way to show an employer what you want them to know about you, without the hiring manager having to figure it out themselves from your resume.

(Almost) Always Send a Cover Letter

Many career experts agree that sending a cover letter is almost always the best decision. Susan Heathfield, a human resources expert, says, "Your cover letter is particularly important. It's the job searcher's opportunity to help the potential employer see that the applicant's skills and experience match what the employer seeks. A well-written cover letter distinguishes your application."

Career expert Heather Huhman notes that "Cover letters allow you – in narrative form – to tell the employer exactly why hiring you, instead of the numerous other candidates, is a good decision.”

A cover letter can make a good impression on a prospective employer and is an excellent way to show that employer why you are a strong candidate for the job.

It is also a useful way to explain away any potential concerns the employer might have about your candidacy, such as gaps in your employment or the fact that you will need to relocate for the job.

Even if a job application does not require a cover letter, you can send one anyway. Often, employers expect a cover letter even if they do not directly ask for one.

Even if they do not necessarily need a cover letter, sending one will demonstrate that you are a motivated candidate.

When Not to Send a Cover Letter

If you're applying online for a job and there is no way to upload or post a cover letter, don't worry about it. You don't need one.

When the employer specifically states what they want in a job application (resume, references, etc.), you don't have to write a cover letter.

Make Sure It's a Good One 

While a well-written cover letter may increase your chances of getting an interview, the opposite is also true. A poorly written cover letter will likely cause an employer to reject your application. Therefore, only send one if you have the time to write a clear, concise and well written letter that makes a strong sales pitch for getting an interview.

Make sure you write a targeted cover letter that specifically relates your experience to the job posting. Keep it short and sweet – 3 - 5 paragraphs – with each paragraph focusing on an aspect of your candidacy.

Finally, be sure to thoroughly edit your cover letter. Typos and grammatical errors will demonstrate a sloppy work ethic to the employer.

Review Cover Letter Samples

Before you start, check out these cover letter examples to get ideas for your own letters.

More About Cover Letters: How Long Should Your Cover Letter Be? | Should You Include a Cover Letter When It's Not Required? 

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