When and Why Do I Need a Cover Letter?

what is it?

A cover letter is a one-page letter that accompanies your resume. It’s designed to let you introduce yourself to the hiring manager in a more personalized way than the resume will allow. Many online applications say that it is optional to attach a cover letter, so many people see it as a pointless step, an unnecessary hurdle. Yet it can be a very effective job search tool.

Can’t i just skip it?

Maybe, depending on the kind of work you’re looking for. Generally, blue-collar trades such as construction rarely expect cover letters. Usually, neither do entry-level retail and food-service positions. Often, these types of positions will only ask for an application and not a resume. On the other hand, if you apply for any type of office work (including entry-level), or for a supervisory role in any industry, you’ll definitely want to include a cover letter. If you’re not sure whether or not it’s appropriate, err on the side of caution and include a cover letter. They’ll appreciate the effort.

General rule: If they ask for a resume, submit a cover letter too.

How could a cover letter help me?

A tailored, personalized, well-written cover letter can:

  • Make you seem more human to the hiring manager
  • Showcase your excellent written communication skills
  • Highlight your most impressive accomplishments
  • Display your passion for this type of work
  • Express your enthusiasm for that company
  • Allow you to say, in your own words, why exactly you’d be a great fit for the job
  • Set an expectation for what will happen next
  • Show that you care enough to take the time to write a cover letter
  • Explain anything unusual about your work history or circumstances.

Please note: Cover letters are especially important if you have a gap in your work history, you’re changing careers, or you apply for a job that you’re overqualified for. Addressing those issues in your cover letter can soothe hiring managers’ fears about your resume.

How Could a cover letter hurt me?

A cover letter can only hurt you if it’s BAD. A bad cover letter might be:

  • Generic – if you use the same cover letter for every position you apply for
  • Vague – if you don’t include specific details about your qualifications
  • Poorly-written – if you have grammatical mistakes, fragments, misspelled words, etc.
  • Meandering – if you have no clear focus, rambling run-on sentences, etc.
  • Robotic – if you use overly formal or complicated language and generally don’t sound human

Stay tuned for a follow-up post about proper structure and formatting for cover letters. In the meantime, check out our cover letter templates, and feel free to come see us at the Career Center for one-on-one help with your cover letters.

Written by Lynnette Lee