What is the purpose of a cover letter?
The main purpose of a cover letter is to persuade an employer that you are a strong potential candidate for a position that you are applying to. For recruiters and hiring managers that choose to read them, the cover letter is a first impression of you as a candidate.
Purpose of a Cover Letter:
Position yourself as a strong candidate for the job
Convince a recruiter or hiring manager to spend more time considering you
Paint a picture of how your experiences apply to a particular role
Get ahead of any issues that your resume might raise
Showcase personality and writing skills
We know, we know. Cover letters are a pain to write, take time to perfect, and there’s not even a guarantee that someone’s going to look at it.
The short answer: yes.
The long answer: sometimes.
There’s a few competing schools of thought on if candidates should attach a cover letter to their job applications or include one when passing along their resume.
Some argue that cover letters allow you to differentiate yourself and show a recruiter that you are invested in this particular job. Everyone knows it takes time to write a cover letter, especially a well-written one, so by submitting one you make it clear that you take this opportunity seriously. They also allow you to be intentional about the first impression you make on a hiring manager.
On the other hand, some recruiters admit they never read cover letters and don’t have time to even open them.
So what’s a job seeker to do? It’s always best to play it safe. You don’t know which school of thought the hiring manager reviewing your application is in. If you’re taking the time to submit a job application, you should invest the extra few minutes in submitting a top-notch application that includes a cover letter. By putting in the time to write cover letters, you can ultimately save yourself time in your overall job search.
There are a few instances when it’s really, really important to have a cover letter: when you have a non-traditional background or when writing is a big part of the job you’re applying for.
Candidates with a non-traditional background can use a cover letter to translate their prior experiences to the skills needed to succeed in the role they’re interested in. It might not be obvious to a recruiter how your background makes you a qualified candidate for a position, so use the cover letter to tell a compelling narrative that draws a clear correlation between what you’ve done and what you can do in this position. Of course, you’ll have to personalize the cover letter to the job you’re applying for.
A cover letter lets you tell your story in written form, and can be a powerful tool to help a recruiter see how you’ll be able to add immediate value.
Secondly, if you’re applying for a role that requires strong communication skills, a cover letter allows you to show that you’ll excel in that capacity. Recruiters evaluate applications to determine which candidates deserve an interview slot, and they want to quickly weed out anyone who doesn’t have the foundational skills needed for the position. Common job titles where writing and communication are essential include: Content Manager, SDR, and Marketing Director.
Of course, the cover letter is only going to help you if it’s done well. It needs to be customized to the specific role you’re applying to and absolutely perfect grammatically (proofread, proofread, proofread!). We recommend formatting it similarly to your resume (same font and style) so your job application looks like a cohesive package.
On occasion, you’ll find yourself starting a job application that does not allow for you to attach a cover letter. When that happens, you’re off the hook! Take the time you saved to do another read-through of your application before submitting it. Always look through the full job application before diving into it to see if they allow for a cover letter (we’d hate for you to waste time writing one only to find that there’s no spot in the application for it!).
Another scenario that doesn’t warrant a cover letter is if you’re applying for a position that is a major fall-back role. A fall-back role is one that you’re not excited about and would only accept as a last resort. These are typically positions that you’re extremely qualified for, maybe even overqualified for, and you have a very good shot at getting without going the extra mile on your application.
Cover letters allow you to stand out from other candidates, tell your story in a way that clearly aligns you with the role, and shows that you’re truly invested in this position. They take some time but those extra few minutes pay off in the long-run. You might just have a recruiter or hiring manager that loves your cover letter and ends up offering you the job!
Want more? Check out our in-depth guide on how to write the perfect cover letter.