Are Cover Letters Necessary? 2023 Guide

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Cover letters take time to do well. Learn more about when you should include one.

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Cover letters aren't always necessary, but including one with your job application can be beneficial.

Considering the average job receives over 100 applications, a cover letter can be an excellent way to stand out from other applicants. It's an opportunity to clarify your interest in the company, expand on your experience, and demonstrate your fit. Well-written cover letters do have an impact. An experiment from ResumeGo found that applicants who submitted a tailored cover letter were invited to interview more often than applicants who didn’t include one—16.4 percent versus 10.7 percent [1]. 

However, recruiters don’t always review cover letters and may only do so once they’ve narrowed their candidate pool. Given the time it takes to research and write a cover letter, it's worth being strategic about when to include one.

In this article, we’ll go over times when it can help to include a cover letter, ways to strengthen your cover letter, and other ways you can go about expressing your interest in a job opening. 

Do you need a cover letter? 

The only time you absolutely need a cover letter is when the job listing instructs you to include one as part of your application. If the listing doesn't specify, this typically means it's cover letter-optional.

While a cover letter can help you stand out from other candidates and show hiring managers the effort you’ve invested in applying, there’s no denying that it takes time to craft a noticeable one. Beyond hearing why you’re a good fit for the role, companies often want to know why you’re interested in working for them specifically, which takes additional research. For instance, you may want to read about the company’s mission, work culture, or recent press to integrate specific reasons. 

After your resume has passed through an applicant tracking system (ATS), there’s a good chance your prospective employer will read your cover letter if you’ve been flagged as a potential fit.

4 times when you should submit a cover letter

Here are some scenarios when it can be particularly worthwhile to include a cover letter:

1. When you’re particularly interested in a role 

A job search typically entails applying to a range of roles that interest you. Some may be dream jobs, while others may sound appealing—but not to the same extent. Include a cover letter for the jobs that particularly interest you, taking the opportunity to convey your enthusiasm and highlight your most relevant experience and achievements.

2. When there’s more to say

A cover letter should expand on your resume. As such, you may want to include one when you have more to say, such as when you’re preparing for a career change, seeking career advancement, or moving to a new city. Often, a resume can’t fully convey these explanations, but a cover letter is an excellent space to expand on your career goals.  

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3. When there’s a gap on your resume

There may be times in your career when you don’t move directly from one role to another, such as when you take time off to parent your child or care for a family member. In that case, you can address any employment gaps in a cover letter, framing the situation in a positive and productive way and highlighting your goals in pursuing your next career move. 

Learn more: 10 Ways to Enhance Your Resume

4. When you have the time

A thoughtful cover letter helps a hiring manager envision how you'd perform on their team, but crafting a good one takes time. Most recruitment professionals will recognize a generic cover letter, and that can be a turnoff. However, if you aren't rushed in your job search, including a cover letter specific to the company and position you're applying for can enhance your application.

Crafting a winning cover letter

A well-crafted cover letter should expand upon your resume rather than repeat information in that document. More than that, it highlights your knowledge about the company, your interest in working there, and your communication skills, and helps set the tone for the hiring process to come. Learn more about how to write a cover letter with our helpful overview. 

In terms of length, a cover letter should be no more than one page, and you’ll ideally address it to the hiring manager or, if that information isn’t readily available, the team or department your role would be a part of. Remember to always proofread and correct any grammatical errors before submitting. Beyond those standards, we’ve compiled a list of tips to strengthen your cover letter. 

Learn more: Types of Resumes: Choosing the Right Format for Your Needs

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Cover letters for specific situations

It’s helpful to shape your cover letter to fit the type of role you’re applying to. Below, you’ll find specific advice for careers, internal roles, internships, and more. 

Other ways to express your interest in a job 

A cover letter is an excellent opportunity to express your interest in the job and the company hiring for it. Here are some additional ways to convey your knowledge and enthusiasm: 

Reach out to a recruiter on LinkedIn. 

Reaching out to a recruiter on LinkedIn, introducing yourself, and expressing your interest in the role (as well as the fact that you’ve already applied for it) can be a great way to get your name in front of the right person. Given that recruiters can still end up sorting through a large number of resumes once the ATS has initially processed applications, it can be beneficial to network in this way. 

Contact the hiring manager. 

Most job postings will not name the hiring manager outright but may include their title. If you can find the hiring manager’s name and email after conducting further research about the team, it may be worthwhile to send a brief email stating that you have applied for the position and outlining your qualifications and interest in the role. 

Learn more: Cover Letter Tips: How to Stand Out to a Hiring Manager

See if you know someone at the company.

If you know someone who works at the company, ask them to refer you for the role, which may need to be done before you officially apply. Doing so is an excellent way to stand out from other applicants. What’s more, internal referrals are four times more likely to be hired, according to LinkedIn [2].

Learn more: 9 Networking Tips to Expand and Strengthen Your Network

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Refresh your cover letter writing skills with the University of Maryland’s course Writing Winning Resumes and Cover Letters on Coursera. Enroll for a free, 7-day trial today. 

Article sources

1

ResumeGo. “Cover Letters: Just How Important Are They? https://www.resumego.net/research/cover-letters/.” Accessed January 19, 2023. 

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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