When (and When NOT) to Include a Cover Letter

“Do I really need to send a cover letter?”

It’s a question our recruiters field all the time. And we get it. Writing a concise, customized cover letter is just one more step in an already complex process, and it can slow you down.

Any investment of your time and effort in the job search process should be scrutinized, which begs the question: Is including a cover letter a smart way to improve your chances of landing an interview…or a waste of time?

Let’s break it down.

Here’s when you should include a cover letter:

1. When it’s listed as a requirement.

No surprise there, right? If you fail to fulfill a basic requirement of an employer’s application process, it will almost certainly knock you out of contention.

2. When you’re changing industries or roles.

If you lack specific experience because you are switching careers, use your cover letter to explain your career story: why you’re headed in a new direction; what your transferable skills are; and why you’re the ideal candidate.

3. When you have a significant employment gap.

Because of the pandemic, employers are more likely to overlook a short employment gap in 2020. However, gaps in your resume can still be viewed as a red flag. A cover letter gives you the opportunity to proactively explain the valid reason(s) for your employment gap, so the employer doesn’t assume the worst about your job performance and/or reliability.

4. When you’ve been referred by someone to apply.

Use your cover letter to explain the relationship and why the referring person believes you’re a good fit for the role.

5. When the role requires strong communication and writing skills.

In this case, the cover letter provides a unique opportunity to showcase your work skills – so seize it!

Here’s when you can skip the cover letter:

While it’s generally a good idea to send one, there are a few exceptions:

1. When an employer explicitly states not to send one.

If the application instructs you not to send a cover letter, it’s best to comply.

2. When there’s no way to upload one.

If the application process doesn’t give you the option to include a cover letter, don’t worry about it.

3. When you simply don’t have time to write one.

No cover letter is better than a bad one.

For those occasions when you choose to send one, this earlier post covers what you should include in your cover letter. Here are the essential elements:

  • Insights about your candidacy that your resume does not provide.
  • A compelling lead sentence that gets a recruiter’s attention.
  • Customization that incorporates language from the job posting.
  • Evidence that you’ve done your homework and researched the employer and/or their industry.
  • An explanation of potential concerns, such as a gap in employment or if you’re changing careers.
  • A specific request for action and/or follow-up steps.

Looking for a faster path to a great job?

PrideStaff can get you to work quickly. Contact the PrideStaff office in your area to find out more about great local job opportunities.