For most jobs, I am not focused on whether or not the candidate includes a cover letter. But in instances where their resume needs some explaining, a cover letter becomes both important and helpful. Generally speaking, there are five times I would recommend including a cover letter in your next job application:
1. Your resume demonstrates some decent job hopping.
At times, there are good reasons for why a person may have had some job hopping in their resume. But without explanation, I often automatically rule them out as a flight-risk.
2. Your resume demonstrates a significant career break.
Like number one above, there are a slew of good reasons why one might have left the workforce for a period of time, like having a baby (if that’s you, don’t forget to check out what options you have for flexible work arrangements!). However, without explanation, this can play to your disadvantage.
3. Your resume suggests you might be overqualified for the role.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: recruiting is my least favorite pillar of the HR function. But I do it because it offers the flexibility I need while raising my young girls. In some ways, I think I am overqualified for the recruiting I am currently doing because I have a significant amount of employee relations, performance management, and other HR experience, but I simply do not mind because of the work-life compatibility I can achieve while doing recruiting. I'd need to explain this if I were applying for my job today.
4. You have been personally referred by someone for the job.
In case the employee who referred you didn’t think to send the hiring manager or recruiter an email to give them a head’s up, it’s important that you highlight that you’ve been referred by someone for this role. Remember, candidates who are referred are 15 times more likely to be interviewed than candidates who have not been referred. Don’t miss this opportunity to tell them.
5. The role you are applying for is executive-level.
While still not required, it’s probably not a bad idea to include a cover letter if the role you are applying for is a very senior-level one.
Apart from these circumstances, though, I think the cover letter is generally becoming obsolete, and that’s because the majority of them are either recapping a resume or are completely generic. But should the job you are applying for fall within any of those 5 categories, I recommend it reading something like this:
I am writing in response to the opening for the Project Manager role. I can offer you three years of experience as a project coordinator and 2 years of experience in a project management role while also bringing experience from both the consulting and hospitality industries. I understand [insert company name] is focused on [insert company objective], and my work experience in areas of [insert a minimum of three areas you have added value] will be of great value to driving [insert company name]’s objective forward.
[insert additional explanation if you fall under items 1-4].
I have attached my resume for your review and look forward to hearing from you soon.
This cover letter is effective because instead of it summarizing the job description or resume, it offers the candidate’s opinion on why, based on that job description and resume, the candidate is a solid choice. This cover letter also demonstrates an understanding of what the company at which you are applying is in business to achieve, but it also demonstrates an understanding of how this position is integral to helping drive that forward.
At this point, whether or not to include an cover letter and exactly what that cover letter should say, should be pretty clear. It’s a small time commitment that if executed appropriately could be the difference between landing that job and not!
Hi, there! I’m Allie Hofer, an HR professional and work-life balance enthusiast. More officially, I’m a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and Society of Human Resource Management – Certified Professional (SHRM-CP). After having my first child, I opted out of the traditional office setting to work from home. Since then, I have been consulting with organizations in the public and private sectors to support the Human Resources function in recruiting, compensation, training and development, and performance management. I started Office Hours to offer a boutique HR solution for small and medium-sized businesses and to help candidates navigate and completely own their career paths