Are Cover Letters Necessary? 5 Reasons Career Experts Think They're Vital

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I can't be the only one who feels like cover letters are the worst. Resumes are no big deal. You can pretty much keep the format, change a few keywords to fit the specific position you're applying for, and you're good to go. Cover letters, on the other hand, take a little more time, energy, and effort to put together the perfect words that will make the right impression to all the right people. But are cover letters really necessary?

If you're someone who sees cover letters as optional rather than a necessity, you might want to re-think that. Because as Vicki Salemi, career expert at job site Monster tells Bustle, "Yes, cover letters are extremely important for job seekers today. Although, startups and smaller companies may not put as much weight on them, at least for mid-sized to larger companies, cover letters offer the candidate the opportunity to introduce themselves outside of their resume."

You should think of your cover letter as a verbal elevator pitch, Salemi says. Keep it short, sweet, and make sure to include two to three outstanding reasons why you're a spot-on fit. "You can also highlight any unique accolades that make you stand apart from the rest of the candidate pool," Salemi says. For instance, if you were on a sales team and earned the most revenue for your company last year and won an award for it, that sort of thing can be included in your cover letter.

If you're still not completely convinced that writing a cover letter isn't a waste of your time, here are five reasons why cover letters are still important:

It's no secret that the job market is tough and there are tons more applicants searching than there are jobs available. So doing all that you can to stand out from the crowd can only work in your favor. "I know from experience that many job seekers are under the impression that once a company starts the recruitment process, they methodically review each and every application, with the goal of whittling down the applicant pool to a manageable number of candidates," Lori Rassas, hiring manager, career coach, and author of The Perpetual Paycheck:  5 Secrets to Getting a Job, Keeping a Job, and Earning Income for Life in the Loyalty-Free Workplace, tells Bustle. "Unfortunately, this review rarely happens because of the sheer number of candidates that apply for a vacant position. This speaks to directly a complaint that I often hear from clients, 'I sent the company my application, but I never received a response.' In response, I usually tell them not to take it personally because chances are, their applications were never even reviewed."

While the reality is harsh, Rassass says when hiring managers have to deal with an overwhelming amount of applications, they often start by looking for “objective” ways to eliminate applicants from consideration. So if a cover letter is requested and one isn't submitted, it's not surprising that it would be eliminated first. Same goes for cover letters that are addressed to the wrong person or have glaringly distracting errors. "Employers know that candidates put forth their best effort in the interview process, and if a candidate does not have the time, interest, or inclination to explain why they are the ideal fit for the position, the employer will likely conclude they are not a fit at all," she says.

Want the job? Of course you do. A cover letter is the perfect opportunity to tell the employer that you're interested. "You want every prospective employer to know that you are truly interested in the vacant position and that you want to move forward in the process," Rassass says. "You do not want to suggest to an employer that giving your application serious consideration will be a waste of time. I once worked with a recruiter who compared finding a job to looking for romance. Prospective employers, in many respects, are no different than potential suitors. Even though they know that you will always be targeting different employers, once they meet with you they’d like to be sure that you are completely committed to the vacant position, should they offer it to you."

"Personally, I prefer a cover letter," Bradley Shaw, hiring manager and SEO consultant, tells Bustle. "Resumes tend to be very dry, but a cover letter allows me to learn a bit more about the individual. The perfect cover letter is short, concise, one-page max. It should be personalized, not generic. Also, include your qualifications and end with a call to action."

"Cover letters are only useful to me if they provide something that can't be seen already in the CV," Joanna Douglas, hiring manager and owner of  Clean Affinity tells Bustle. "If it just regurgitates what is provided elsewhere, and uses over-the-top sales or promotion style speech, that's a sure-fire way to get me to mark it lower than an application that doesn't even have a cover letter. Overly wordy cover letters that provide me with no new information tell me that I will not want to read any reports or documents you generate as part of the job."

"If your resume isn’t up to the experience expectations a role requires, a cover letter can go a long way for you!" Alina Basina, Global Head of Talent and Human Resources at Jobbatical, tells Bustle. "I once had a candidate apply for a developer role that he wasn’t really qualified for. But lucky for him, he wrote me a genuinely funny and well-researched cover letter. He seemed to know so much about our team, including how our copywriter writes and where many people from the company were originally from; he put so much effort into his cover letter that I had to talk to him! His excellent cover letter set him apart and in the end, we decided to hire him regardless of his lack of experience, because we knew he would go above and beyond to learn whenever and wherever necessary."

Cover letters may not be required, but can work in your favor if done correctly. According to Basina, here are seven things you should keep in mind when you're trying to write the perfect cover letter:

  • Spelling, grammar, and word usage are paramount in importance. So make sure your cover letter is perfect in that respect.
  • Be very careful of how you copy-paste. Even one slip up — the wrong company name anywhere on the letter — will get you instantly rejected.
  • Make yourself shine. Really try to sell yourself without sounding stuck-up. It’s a thin line between confidence and boastfulness, but you’ve got to walk it.
  • Make the first sentence catchy and attention-getting right off the bat. Remember how many of those they have to read in a day.
  • If you must do something "stunt-like" with your cover letter, try to put yourself in the employers' shoes and figure out if it will actually resonate with them. Stunts can be great, but they can also be very annoying.
  • A cover letter is one of the only chances for recruiters to get to know you personally before an interview, so tell them something fun, funny, cool, inspiring, and/or thought-provoking.  
  • But, please don't write a novella about your life and why you’re right for the role. A paragraph or so will do just fine.

Nowadays, when many applications get screened by resume robots before landing across an actual pair of human eyes, it sometimes may feel like cover letters just aren't worth all that energy you spend making them. Some job postings don't even require you to submit a cover letter at all. But finding a job is tough, and there's a lot of competition out there. If you want to boost your chances at landing an in-person interview, a well-crafted cover letter might get you there sooner.