2 Times You Shouldn't Include a Cover Letter — And The 1 Time You Actually Should

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
May 19, 2024 at 7:50PM UTC

Tedious and time-consuming. Those are the first adjectives on a lot of people’s minds when it comes to cover letters. But traditionally, they’re considered pretty much mandatory.

Or are they? Today, does it really matter if you include a cover letter? As always, the answer is: it depends.

When you shouldn’t include a cover letter

“I rarely, if ever, read cover letters,” Joan Williams, Senior Talent Acquisition Consultant, writes in the Fairygodboss community feed. “My hiring managers don't read cover letters. Cover letters are opinion pieces. Resumes are factual documents. A CL is never going to make someone who is not a fit for my position be a fit.”

“I don't think cover letters are an indication of a quality applicant,” Barb Hansen agrees. “Cover letters are an indication on how well a person can write (and sometimes write fiction) or how well the person can edit a cover letter template that they found on the web.”

1. You’re not adding anything new to your application.

Too often, cover letters don’t actually add anything substantive to your application. If you’re just regurgitating your resume, rather than adding new information, then why write one at all?

2. You’re not willing to invest the time.

The real value of cover letters comes from personalization and attention to detail. The whole purpose of them is to add the details that make you human — the ones that don’t come through in your resume. So, if you’re not willing to put in the time and effort to customize it and speak to your connection with the employer, you’re put in that (minimal) effort for nothing.

When you should include a cover letter

Sometimes, a cover letter is required. If that’s the case, then, of course, you need to include one. “I wasn't a fan of writing them, but I would say that 75% of the jobs I applied to required them on the application,” one FGBer writes. 

What if it’s not required? There’s one other time you should include it.

1. You’re truly personalizing it.

“In state work, you have a state app (that is essentially the same info as a resume) so we rely on your cover letter to tell us things we can't find out otherwise,” Claudia notes. “I always read the cover letters.”

If you’re truly able to personalize your cover letter, then, by all means, submit one. For example, if you’re very invested in the role, add details that speak to that in your letter. You should also attest to any personal connections you might have with the employer, like a referral who works there.

Whether or not you choose to submit a cover letter, it IS important to include materials that attest to your qualifications, such as a portfolio or LinkedIn profile. And, of course, don’t forget to convey your interest. 

“I would rather an applicant follow up with a meaningful and insightful email after the interview,” Hansen says.

When do you include cover letters in your job application? Why or why not? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

About the Career Expert:

 Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket and The Haven.

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