Job hunting is difficult enough without seeing that dreaded sentence in a job description: applications without cover letters will not be considered. But when a cover letter isn’t mentioned at all, you have to ask yourself, “Do I need a cover letter?”

The first job listing requesting a cover letter alongside a resume appeared in the New York Times classified section on September 23, 1956. It was for a job opening at Dutch Boy Paints as an industrial paint chemist. 

For better or worse, the cover letter craze caught on and while job applications changed from in-person drop-offs, and mail-in resumes, to fax machines and the internet, cover letters are still here.

We asked newly hired job seekers about their cover letter habits and talked to recruiting and career experts to hear the industry’s stance on cover letters. Their answers may surprise you.

Are cover letters necessary anymore?

Whether cover letters are relevant is up for debate, both for job seekers and career experts. However, the general consensus is that if an organization requests it in the job description, you should include one.

Whether you need a cover letter with your resume can depend on a few things:

  • Your industry
  • If the job description mentions it

Let’s break down the conflicting information about cover letters once and for all.

When Jobscan asked 200 newly hired job seekers if they leveraged cover letters in their job search, we got the results illustrated below.

35.4% of newly hired job seekers consistently submitted cover letters during their job search. The majority of respondents were less consistent. 42.5% included cover letters with some jobs, 16% rarely submitted cover letters, and 6.1% of job seekers opted out entirely.

graphic of survey results asking "did you always include a cover letter with your resume?"

A recent poll of LinkedIn users showed that 44% of respondents think the cover letter is dead. But about 43% believe it’s alive and well.

So, does submitting (or not submitting) a cover letter impact potential job offers?

We asked job seekers if they included one for the jobs they were offered. When it comes to securing a job offer, the relevance of cover letters is even more shaky.

While 35.8% of people included a cover letter for every application for which they were offered the role, 21.2% received job offers even though they never submitted one with their resume.

graphic of survey results asking "for job roles you were offered, did you submit cover letters when applying?"

What do industry professionals have to say about cover letters?

Career experts agree that there’s no real consensus about the importance of cover letters. Tracy Saunders, a recruiter, author, and job search advisor, did an informal survey of 10,000 recruiters. 61% of respondents said cover letters don’t matter, 31% said they do matter, and the remaining 8% expressed indifference.

Monique Montanino, Tech Exec Career Coach, suggests that the cover letter’s value changes depending on the stage of the hiring process. She explains that “as a former group hiring manager at a Fortune 200 company, the HR team would present me with the top 10 qualified candidates. I would always read all the information presented by the candidate.”

It’s not one-size-fits-all, which for job seekers, can be a frustrating response.

So we asked career experts to share their experiences with cover letters. Does anyone read them, and does not including one hinder you from getting a job?

Do you need a cover letter: It depends on the industry

Hiring managers and recruiters in certain industries won’t place as much emphasis on the cover letter as others. Kate Lander, a Career Expert and Workforce Development specialist and face of Lander Consulting UK, sees differences across industry sectors.

“I’ve found that within lower-level roles in STEM, there’s less emphasis on the cover letter as hires are typically driven by technical competence and qualifications.”

Tracy admits she didn’t read cover letters for every tech role she was filling. “It’s not that I didn’t want to learn about the candidate, it’s just that their GitHub code or LinkedIn profile told me all I needed to know.”

Other industries highlight the importance of cover letters, says Kate. “Certainly in the visitor economy and creative industries, demonstrating your ability to communicate effectively, and pitch yourself in a powerful way, gives a recruiter confidence that you’ll be able to do this ‘on the job’.”

Tracy agrees and expands on which industries prefer a well-written cover letter. “For recruiters hiring for HR, operations or finance, they want to see how a person communicates in writing, and cover letters help with that.”

“If done right, a well-crafted cover letter will answer a lot of questions before starting a conversation. I would rather get a lot of the basics out of the way so we can focus on the important details.” – Professional Recruiter

Do you need a cover letter: Is it in the job posting?

Many job postings will tell you if you need a cover letter. Kelli Hrivnak, Founder of Knak Digital, a boutique recruitment firm, urges applicants to “read the fine print in the job description and application to learn if a cover letter is required to be considered for the opportunity.”

Failing to include a requested cover letter can be a failure of the hiring manager’s first mini-test: measuring your attention to detail. In her experience, “employers may eliminate applicants that didn’t follow the instructions in the job ad.”

Don’t give hiring managers a reason to disregard your resume before they even see it.

Cover Letter Tip

Consider regional preferences regarding cover letters. According to Kate Lander, Career Expert and Workforce Development specialist, “recruiters in the UK really appreciate a cover letter, even if they haven’t specified that they’d like one. Having the context or justification of an application enables a recruiter to visualise the motives behind the CV or resume.”

Advantages of including a cover letter according to experts

Many job seekers struggle to write cover letters because they’re time-consuming. If you’re a weak writer applying to non-writing-related roles, cover letters can feel like a form of torture.

However, according to the experts, it can be worth it.

Susan E. Schwartz, personal brand strategist and career coach cautions that “if your cover letter is just going to reiterate what your resume says, don’t bother. But, if you can write a letter that lets them know you understand their needs—and you state clearly how you can help—that’s a letter worth writing.”

According to Tracy Saunders, recruiter, author, and job search advisor, 63% of recruiters aren’t finding suitable candidates to fill job openings. A concise cover letter can give you an edge.

1. Cover letters can leave a good impression

Showing a little extra effort helps you stand out. It’s especially so when it’s voluntary. It can leave a positive impression before you even meet the hiring manager.

This is one highlight of cover letters, according to Monique Montanino. “Researching a company, its leadership, mission, and accomplishments provides the opportunity to state why you want to be employed there and add value. How would you feel if someone showed up knowing your business accomplishments and challenges and offered thoughts on innovation for a positive impact?”

“The cover letter allows you to deliver that message.”

Expert Tip

For maximum impact, see if you can find the Hiring Manager or Recruiter for the role, and send your letter to them. Addressing your letter to a specific person will significantly increase the likelihood of someone reading it.

2. Cover letters can add more depth to your resume

Get ahead of any questions the hiring manager may have when reading your resume. Jazlyn Unbedacht, a professional resume writer, believes a cover letter is a great place to start “if you have an employment gap, an interesting job experience history, or have anything you want to clarify on your resume.”

Your resume can’t address everything, so Kate Lander tells job seekers to reframe their job search collateral. “Where a resume or CV could be viewed as a marketing flyer, a page (or two) of impact-led tasks and outcomes; a cover letter contextualizes these to the needs of the specific business and role they are applying for—it’s the sales pitch!”

3. Cover letters help you stand out with a unique voice

Of course, you tailored your resume for your application. But, it’s not the best place to dive into your unique story. To Monique, cover letters are the perfect place to tell a short, but gripping story.

“Contrary to a resume, cover letters show your responsibilities and accomplishments customized in your voice to the open job requisition. You are unique. Here is your opportunity to report your vision, leadership style, and successes with a personal perspective that will resonate with the hiring CEO or recruiter.”

Madelyn Mackie, a Career Activator who helps job seekers get unstuck, says your cover letter is “an opportunity to let your personality shine through.”

Just because cover letters are becoming unpopular—among job seekers and hiring teams—Madelyn recommends writing one. “Even hiring managers and recruiters who say they never read cover letters may find themselves drawn in by a particularly compelling letter.”

The ATS scans cover letters for keywords and skills

When you apply for a job, your resume goes into the ATS, or applicant tracking system. It works as a database to store your resume and acts as a search engine where the hiring manager inputs skills or keywords from the job description.

But most ATS will also store and scan your document for keywords. This can give you an edge if used correctly. Suzanne Berger, a Career Consultant, advises job seekers to “include a short cover letter showing your match to 3 to 5 job requirements” to take advantage of keyword matches.

Make writing easier with Jobscan’s cover letter generator

Sometimes you have to include a cover letter for consideration. But if you’re in STEM, finance, or a non-creative field, the writing requirement can make your job search miserable.

“A bad cover letter does not negate a strong resume.” – Professional Recruiter

Start with Jobscan’s cover letter generator. It uses AI to create an ATS-friendly, optimized cover letter. It integrates with our premium Power Edit, so while you’re optimizing your resume for the job description, you can easily generate your document on the same screen.

Once you generate your cover letter, you can adjust the document to add the hiring manager’s name, incorporate any critical details, or save it as-is.

Many job seekers hate cover letters. But, they can still help your job search. They let you personalize yourself to a hiring manager. This matters in a world where everything happens through the screen.

A good cover letter can make an impact on a hiring manager, urge them to dive deeper into your resume, and tip the scales in your favor for getting an interview.

an infographic of a cover letter checklist

FAQs about cover letters

Is it unprofessional to not have a cover letter?

While it’s not necessarily unprofessional to not include a cover letter with your job application, writing one can benefit you. A cover letter allows you to introduce yourself, highlight key skills relevant to the position, and explain what interests you about the role and the company.

It gives you an opportunity to make a strong first impression and stand out from other applicants. A good cover letter also shows that you tailored your application for that job. It shows you took the time and can reveal your real interest.

In tough job markets, a cover letter can help you show your qualifications. It can also make a strong case for why you are the best candidate.

Are cover letters still necessary?

Some companies may not require them. But, a good cover letter can help you stand out from others and give more context to your resume.

Unless the employer says not to, it’s good to include a cover letter with your resume when applying for a job.

What happens if I don’t write a cover letter?

It’s not required to write a cover letter when applying for a job. But, skipping it could hurt your chances of capturing the hiring manager’s attention.

Some employers ask for a cover letter as part of the application process. So, not submitting one could result in your application being overlooked.

Writing a tailored cover letter can increase your chances of making a positive impression and standing out among other applicants.

Is it mandatory to write a cover letter?

While it is not always mandatory to write a cover letter, experts highly recommended including one when applying for a job. It gives you an opportunity to personalize your application and make a strong first impression.

In many cases, employers do appreciate getting a cover letter with your resume. It shows your interest in the position and can set you apart from other applicants.

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Kelsey Purcell

Kelsey is a Content Writer with a background in content creation, bouncing between industries to educate readers everywhere.

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