Cover Letters – Are They Optional?

Have you ever noticed when applying for positions online that you need to either upload or paste your resume, but have an ‘option’ of uploading/pasting your cover letter? How ‘optional’ is it really? Let’s not kid ourselves – if we could get out of doing it, why wouldn’t we! Job searching takes an abundance of time and sometimes it’s nice to discover a shortcut! Unfortunately, if we skip over the cover letter, we most likely are skipping over the position too! Cover letters, at the end of the day, are anything but optional.

The purpose of a cover letter is to spend three or so short paragraphs providing insight into your experiences, specific points that highlight your skills for the position, and the reasons for your interest in the position and/or company. If you show that you have researched the company in-depth you may even get a one up on the competition because no hiring manager wants to see a ‘general’ cover letter or worse yet, none at all!

There has been a fair bit of speculation over the internet as to how much time and value a hiring manager puts into a cover letter. Most hiring managers immediately look at your resume and reviews your previous work experience and education (if applicable) and if they place you in the ‘likely candidate’ pile, they’ll look for more information.

The cover letter is where you make a compelling case for yourself as to why you are the best candidate for the job and the company. You have a unique opportunity to share more information than what is already presented in the resume and also explain your interest in the position. Writing an individualized, company and position specific cover letter is key for your job search. You have an opportunity to explain possibly one of the below situations so you may not be overlooked as a candidate –

1. Are you applying for a position that you are over-qualified for but still interested? Explain this, otherwise you may not be considered because the hiring manager does not want to waste your time and theirs.
2. Are you not a perfect match but eager to learn? Acknowledge that you don’t fit perfectly but what you can bring to the company/position.
3. Are you changing career paths? Explain the reasons for changing.

Not providing a cover letter can also give the impression that you are either sending hundreds of random resumes out into the unknown or are only willing to do the bare minimum, and let’s face it, no one wants that! I’ll admit that there may be a few circumstances where a cover letter is not needed but do you really want to risk it? So in conclusion, best to submit than omit.