Zoe Kaplan
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Staff Writer & Content Strategist @ Fairygodboss

Cover letters remain one of the more confusing parts of a job application. It’s not even a question of what to write in them anymore, but rather whether you should include them at all.

Unfortunately for job seekers, whether or not to include a cover letter doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all answer. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t cover letter tips to help you decide whether to include one, and if so, what to say, on a case-by-case basis. Here’s what three talent acquisition experts from Eaton — who deal with job applications nearly every day — had to say about cover letters.

If a Cover Letter is Required In the Application

If a cover letter is required, there’s no getting around adding one to your application. But what should it say?

“If you have to do it, take that opportunity to highlight even more of your experience and [explain] how it matches what the company is looking for,” Mariana Paioletti, Talent Acquisition Manager for Latin America, Eaton, said. 

Instead of regurgitating what’s on your resume, use your cover letter to build on what you’ve already included and illustrate the link between your skills and what’s in the job description. Keywords aren’t just for resumes; you can (and should!) look and use the job description to help map out your cover letter.

“I also would recommend for people that had unique experiences — like taking time off to be a caregiver — to address that in the cover letter,” Frances Holly, Global Human Resources Director at Eaton, said.

Even if you’re trying to embellish your skills and address any unique experiences, the cover letter doesn’t have to be a full essay; Pailoletti says that just two paragraphs can be sufficient enough to drive home why you’re a good fit for the role.

If a Cover Letter Isn’t Required In the Application

“A lot of people think they have to submit a cover letter, but that’s just not the case,” Lisa Gackowski, Executive Talent Acquisition Consultant at Eaton, said. “I think you’re better off spending your time not even submitting a cover letter, but using that time to tailor your specific resume and make yourself stand out even more. 

Paioletti agreed. “To be honest, I don’t remember the last time I looked at a cover letter,” she said. 

Instead, Paioletti focuses on a candidate’s resume to see if their experience matches what the job description is looking for — and likes to see clear results on the page.

“When I look at a resume and see hard numbers, I immediately think, ‘how did she do that?’ And I want to talk to the candidate,” Paioletti said.

Instead of writing a cover letter, Holly recommends “[Turning] your cover letter in your elevator pitch.” This means instead of spending your time trying to explain yourself in a cover letter, you should use that time to perfect your own pitch.

An elevator pitch should be 20 to 30 seconds long and clearly describe what you do, how you do it, and why that’s important. Like your resume, your elevator pitch should be tailored to your audience. Adding any keywords or related skills from the job description can help drive home why you’re the ideal candidate for the position. 

“If you know that elevator pitch and you’re using that format, philosophy and methodology of a cover letter for how you introduce yourself on the first call with a recruiter, or how you start off your conversation when you’re interviewing with an employer, then I think that goes a long way.”

Because an elevator pitch is more versatile than a cover letter — which is typically just used in an application — Holly advised using this pitch in your initial emails with a recruiter, or in a direct message on LinkedIn. 

According to these talent acquisition experts, cover letters aren’t the be-all-end-all when it comes to job applications, especially if they’re not required of you. Instead, focus on how you can build off your resume — whether that’s in a dedicated email, a story you tell in your interview or your perfectly-crafted elevator pitch.

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This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

What’s your no. 1 piece of cover letter advice? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!