In the age of social resumes and online job applications, do hiring managers and recruiters even read cover letters anymore?

If it hasn’t explicitly been asked for in the job listing, you’re probably wondering if you need to submit a cover letter along with your resume. After all, writing a cover letter can be time-consuming, particularly if you’re applying for several roles as you’ll need to tailor it to every job.

So are you hurting your chances if a cover letter isn’t required and you chose not to submit one? Can your cover letter mean the difference between landing an interview and being passed over?

Read on to find out when it’s crucial to provide a cover letter and when it’s not.

When to include a cover letter

While you might think busy hiring managers and recruiters don’t have time to read them, cover letters are still requested by many businesses as it’s often part of their formal hiring processes. So it goes without saying that you should always include a cover letter if it’s asked for as part of the job application.

Aside from that, it’s also a good idea to submit a cover letter in the following scenarios:

  • When the job advertisement specifies that a cover letter is optional
  • When the job application online portal includes a cover letter attachment button
  • When the hiring manager or recruiter requests one separately, regardless of what the job ad says

Yes, it does take extra time but think of your cover letter as an additional opportunity to communicate and express your enthusiasm for the role, which you don’t often have room for in your CV. 

In addition, if you don’t have direct industry experience, a cover letter is a chance to highlight your transferable skills, explain any gaps and increase your chances of landing an interview.

Regardless of the types of roles you’re applying for, it’s worthwhile having a cover letter template on hand so that you can easily edit and tailor it for specific roles.

RELATED: How to sell your skills on your CV and cover letter

When NOT to include a cover letter

There are a few scenarios in which you don’t need to include a cover letter:

  • When the job advertisement explicitly states that no cover letter is necessary
  • When you don’t have an option to upload one through the job application portal
  • When you are applying for a job through a friend or contact and they have said a cover letter is not necessary

When in doubt, it’s best to include one anyway. If you need to contact the hiring manager, recruiter or prospective employer for further details about the job before you apply, you can always double-check to confirm whether they require a cover letter from you.

RELATED: 6 techniques for writing a strong cover letter

Tips for writing a cover letter that stands out

Employers and recruiters will likely be looking through hundreds of resumes and cover letters before selecting interviewees, so it pays to keep yours concise and to the point.

Here’s a brief structure for a targeted one-page cover letter:

  • Date
  • Address the hiring manager or recruiter by name and title, if you know it
  • Paragraph 1: Craft a short, compelling opening statement about why you’re the ideal candidate for the role
  • Paragraph 2: Briefly highlight why you’re passionate about the job and industry
  • Paragraph 3: Mention your strongest skills and experience that are aligned to the job, using relevant keywords and phrases
  • Paragraph 4: Close with a brief call to action to meet
  • Finish with a polite sign-off and your full name

Remember your cover letter is an extension of your resume: it gives you another opportunity (separate to your CV) to demonstrate your experience and enthusiasm for the role, and ultimately, stand out from the crowd and land an interview.

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