Is a Cover Letter Necessary? Pros and Cons

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When applying for a vacancy, you might enclose a cover letter along with your CV in your job application. A cover letter can enhance your job application because it's an additional document where you can further your case in front of a potential employer. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of a cover letter can help you determine whether it's necessary for your application. In this article, we discuss is a cover letter necessary, the pros and cons of submitting one, when not to include a cover letter and tips to help you determine what's best for your candidacy.

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is a formal business letter that seeks to explain why you would be a good fit for a role and why you're interested in the respective company. In your own words, you can elaborate on your key qualifications and qualities to demonstrate your competency to carry out the duties of the role. Similarly, you can share your career ambitions and work philosophy to convey your interest in the company. This one-page document gives you sufficient space to discuss your achievements using memorable examples and stories.

Essentially, a cover letter is another communication tool you can use to convince recruiters of your potential. It allows you to build a personal connection with the reader as it illustrates your personality, attitude and outlook on life.

Related: How To Write a Cover Letter

Is a cover letter necessary?

While a cover letter is not necessary for every job application, it can boost your chances of scoring a job interview. Usually, when an employer specifically asks for a cover letter in their job posting, it's necessary to follow their instructions and enclose one in your application. However, some employers may not specify this requirement, because they believe it's a standard convention you should follow with no prompting. This means to use your own discernment to determine whether a cover letter can enhance your application. When making this important decision, consider asking yourself the following questions:

  • Does a cover letter add value to my job application?

  • Do I need to elaborate on what I have already mentioned in my CV?

  • Does my cover letter sound repetitive?

  • Is my cover letter relevant to the employer?

  • Can I address the employer's questions with another method?

Cover letter pros and cons

Since a cover letter takes additional effort, it's important to weigh up the pros and cons of a cover letter before committing to writing one. The goal of your job application should be to create a sense of intrigue around your candidacy. Determine whether a cover letter can support this objective. The following is a list of the pros and cons of enclosing a cover letter along with your CV:

Cover letter pros

Here's an overview of the advantages of including a cover letter in your job application:

Highlights your uniqueness

A cover letter gives you the chance to express your personality through your word choice, tone of voice and other communication skills. Unlike a CV that simply states your skills and experiences, a cover letter allows you to describe your thoughts, lessons and ambitions. This is a crucial advantage because it sets you apart from other qualified candidates. You can think of it as a document that convinces recruiters of your unique selling point. Other candidates may have the same skills as you, but they won't have the ideas and work style that you bring to a position.

Puts your candidacy in context

A CV on its own can be limiting because it doesn't answer key questions about why you want to apply for a role or how the role fits into your future career trajectory. Thus, a cover letter can put your job application in context. You can use it to acknowledge and explain potential red flags, such as gaps in your CV or the unique format of your job application.

Establishes a rapport

Although a cover letter is a formal document, they are still very personal because it allows you to address the reader directly. Thus, try to do some research to find out the name and background of its recipient. This way, you can align yourself with their goals, interests and needs. A cover letter can help you appear more relatable. It conveys that you can be a good fit for their company culture and can integrate with new team members effortlessly.

Allows you to be more detailed

There may be some details about your experience or skills that you aren't able to include on your CV. If you have a lot of work history and you're trying to keep your CV brief, you may have additional skills or experience with certain tasks that aren't included. In that case, you can mention them in your cover letter if they're particularly relevant or helpful.

For instance, if you are applying for a role at a certain type of company and you've worked in that industry in an unrelated capacity, that position might not need to be included in your resume, but be worth mentioning in your cover letter.

Related: How To Structure a Cover Letter (With Example)

Cover letter cons

Here's an overview of the disadvantages of including a cover letter in your job application:

Lack of focus

A cover letter may be disadvantageous if you don't capture the goals of the company correctly. For example, if the job requires a specific skill set and your cover letter seems unrelated, it could discourage recruiters from advancing your application to the next stage in the hiring process.

Successful cover letters often contain memorable examples, interesting observations and excellent writing skills. However, candidates who struggle to craft compelling pieces of writing may be at a disadvantage when asked to submit a cover letter. If you don't pay attention to proper cover letter etiquette, it could reflect poorly on your application. This may cause recruiters to dismiss your candidacy altogether.

Time-consuming

You might need to apply for dozens of jobs before you receive an interview invitation. This process can be time-consuming, especially if you need to write a personalised cover letter for each employer. Thus, in order to be efficient, you might need to be selective in your approach. It's best not to submit a cover letter, rather than sending one that looks messy or rushed.

When should you not include a cover letter?

You can decide not to include a cover letter if a recruiter has specifically asked you not to include one in their job posting. This might be the best approach because you want to avoid adding additional work to your or the recruiter's existing workload unnecessarily. Instead, use your email message to introduce yourself and thank the employer for the opportunity. Remember that it's best to follow the recruiter's requirements, rather than crafting a cover letter that's rushed or irrelevant. The following are a few guidelines on when you should not include a cover letter:

  • Don't include a cover letter if a recruiter asks you not to do so.

  • Avoid attaching a cover letter if you have poor writing skills.

  • Refrain from including a cover letter if you feel the information is irrelevant.

  • Don't include a cover letter that reads poorly.

Related: How To Write a Job Application Email (With Examples)

Tips to help you determine whether to enclose a cover letter

The following are a few tips to help you determine whether you should enclose a cover letter along with your CV:

  • Review the job listing. Browse through the job posting for any instructions on whether to include a cover letter in your job application. You may find this information either at the top or at the very bottom of the job advertisement.

  • Understand the norms in your industry. Ask your previous colleagues for advice on the approach that has been the most successful for them because job application requirements may vary from one industry to the other. For example, in the academic industry, it's common for candidates to just enclose a detailed CV and samples of their published work.

  • Consult a friend. You can gauge the opinion of a close friend or family member to get another perspective on the quality of your cover letter. Be open to their honest feedback and only submit a cover letter if it adds value to your job application.

  • Call the company. If you're still confused about whether to include a cover letter, it's best to contact the company's hiring department directly to ask for further clarification. Doing so can help put you at ease and show the recruiter your genuine interest in the opportunity.

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