Are cover letters necessary in 2024?

So, you’ve just finished writing your resume with a resume builder and now you’re ready to dive into the job application process. You can’t help but notice several job listings asking for a cover letter. Some say it’s optional while others require it. And you start to wonder, are cover letters necessary? And should you write one for every job you apply for? In this article, we’ll explore the importance of cover letters, when you should use one, other ways to showcase enthusiasm for a job during the search, and how to create unique cover letters for jobs lightning fast.

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Do you need a cover letter? Are cover letters necessary?

It depends. If a job listing requires cover letters, you’ll need to write one for the role you apply for. If the job listing says it’s optional, you should consider writing one but you don’t have to. For jobs that have fast application processes, you usually don’t need one but they can be helpful to stand out. If the cover letter you write is going to sell you as a candidate (it’s supposed to, but not everyone is good at writing them), you should choose to include one. Any additional context you can share with a hiring manager to really showcase your unique skills and accomplishments should be used to help you land your next role. And a cover letter can help you do that. So is a cover letter necessary? No. But they’re highly recommended most of the time.

What does optional really mean?

If a job listing says that a cover letter is optional it means that they’ll easily welcome cover letters but don’t require it. However, since they do allow cover letters, you should consider writing one. After all, you’ll be up against dozens of other applicants and some of those folks will be writing cover letters to impress the same hiring manager you are. By writing a cover letter, you’ll put yourself in the best position possible to land that first interview to really wow hiring managers with your credentials.

Why are cover letters important?

1. It’s a hiring manager’s first impression of you

Cover letters are important because it’s an interviewer's first impression of you. When you apply for a job, they’ll scan your resume and cover letter for a few seconds to learn more about you. If something jumps out at them, they’ll look at your application more deeply to consider you as a candidate for the position they’re hiring for. The words you write in your cover letter will help someone think “wow, I need to meet this person.” That’s the goal of what you’re aiming for when creating a cover letter. So are cover letters necessary? Yes, because they help shape someone’s perspective of you before they meet you. And if you write it well, it’ll be a positive first impression.

2. It adds a human touch to your application

A cover letter helps humanize your job application by adding your own personal touch to the application. Most hiring managers don’t hire you based on your skills alone. They often look at your personality. What feeling or vibe do they get from you? Will you put in the work? And help them achieve results? Or will it be more work to manage? These are all things to consider when hiring someone for a job. A cover letter helps give an insight into your personality. You may write a witty cover letter that makes them think you’re an engaging person. Or you might write monotonous text, which makes you seem more dry. If you highlight some of your biggest accomplishments, they might perceive you as a go-getter. That human touch and personal flair sets you apart from the pack, so that you can land that coveted interview spot over others.

3. It explains resume gaps with ease

Having a resume gap can be an uncomfortable topic to talk about. In an interview, you’ll often be asked why’d you leave your last job. And if you get laid off, it can be an uncomfortable conversation. Sharing resume gaps on a cover letter gives you time to think about how to position your gap to explain yourself so you can present yourself well in an interview. It’s like a dress rehearsal. If you got laid off four times in one year in a string of bad luck, explaining that in a cover letter will help recruiters give you the benefit of the doubt. The hiring process is filled with judgment to determine if you’re a good fit or not. But your resume gap shouldn’t be something people judge you on, so explain it well in a cover letter so you can transition to the next stage of the hiring process.

4. It showcases your skills through explanation

Cover letters are necessary and important because they showcase your skills with deeper explanations. You can easily elaborate on your processes, thinking, and role in your accomplishments to help hiring managers see the depth to your work. Seeing a big result can be impressive, but seeing how you got to that result tells a deeper story about your work ethic, skill, and more.

5. It differentiates you from other candidates

Let’s face it, most job applicants will not submit a cover letter with their application. Most will do the least amount of work possible to get the highest number of interviews as possible. They’ll focus on quantity (number of companies applied to) rather than quality (thoughtful, complete package and effort into their application). When you add a well-written and elaborate cover letter to your job application, you’ll start seeing great results fast. It helps set you apart from other candidates. That added touch showcases that you really want this job. Plus, it gets a hiring manager to spend more time looking at you as a candidate to help ease you into the next stages of the interview process.

When should you use a cover letter

1. When you really want this specific job

Cover letters are necessary when you really want a specific job. When you see a job listing that was made for you and hope to impress a hiring manager, writing a cover letter allows you to set yourself apart from other candidates. When you write a cover letter yourself, you can inject unique stories, experiences, and explanations to help sell you. You can use AI to help guide your thought process or tweak introductions and closing statements. But you’ll want to edit content to add your own little touches to really sell you as a candidate. Why did this job speak to you? Share that in your cover letter.

2. When you have context to share

Cover letters are necessary when you have context to share. Are there things you did that were mindblowingly impressive but need a bit more explanation than that simple bullet point on your resume? Explain them in your cover letter. Explain the thought process behind how you approached the project or achieved a big result with it. By sharing the little details behind what you did you can help others understand your true impact on your last team. Those little context details can help people realize how experimental, smart, or thoughtful you are in your approach to your job.

3. To explain an employment gap

You should use a cover letter to explain an employment gap. When a recruiter sees a resume gap on your resume, they’ll assume the worst. They might judge you, especially if the gap is a big one. The best thing to do is to explain your employment gap by sharing the reason for it in your cover letter. For example, if you are a mom to four kids under the age of five, you can explain that you were a caregiver or taking care of family for a few years. You shouldn’t explain that you were a stay-at-home mom as that might present bias. But saying you were caring for your family explains the gap without going deep into it. Alternatively, if you got laid off from a job, you can say you were laid off for non-performance reasons and then explain some of your biggest accomplishments at the company to help explain that you are in fact a top performer.

4. When you have time to write one

Consider using a cover letter when you have some time or bandwidth to write one. If you’ve been laid off and have an open schedule to write cover letters, you should probably write them. It can give you a competitive advantage. Plus, if you’re out of work, you’ll want to do any little bit you can to help give you additional edge over other job seekers on the market. If others could be sending in cover letters, you should too so you can land your next opportunity faster.

5. When the job posting asks for one

Are cover letters necessary? Well, when a job posting asks for one they are. If you see a request making cover letters mandatory for your application process, you’ll need to write something up to apply for that role. Since it’s mandated by the company, it’s likely that they’ll actually read every cover letter they get, so you’ll want to put some effort into it to ensure you land an interview with them. Look at all the qualifications and skills they require and touch on how you're the best person for the job because of those requirements while adding a personal flair to make yourself stand out.

6. When you have an existing relationship with the hiring manager

You should write a cover letter when you already have a relationship with the hiring manager. If you’ve worked with them in the past, you might mention where you worked with them and in what capacity to be considered for the role. Of course, you’ll want the cover letter to be professional despite the personal relationship as others might see this cover letter too. But a cover letter is a good idea when you’ve worked with someone on the hiring team before to give you a bit of an advantage.

Other ways to show recruiters your excitement for a job

1. Reach out to them on LinkedIn

Beyond just a cover letter, you can also reach out to hiring managers and recruiters on LinkedIn to showcase your excitement about potentially working with them. You might send a quick hello to let them know you’ve applied for the role with a brief explanation to why that role jumped out at you. Share why you think you’d be a great fit for the position so that they already have a favorable impression of you. Keep the message simple and thoughtful.

2. Create a video introducing yourself to them

On some application forms, you can attach files. If you’re feeling up for it, you can add a video of yourself making a quick introduction on who you are and why you applied for this specific position. This added addition helps personalize you a bit more so that they’re more excited to meet you. Your video shouldn’t be more than two minutes as hiring managers don’t have that much time to spare. So get to the point quickly about why you think you’d be a great fit for this position if chosen for an interview.

3. Look for people you know who work there

Beyond just the hiring team, reaching out to people you know who may work at that company you’ve applied for could be a great way to get a foot in the door during the job search. You can have that person be an employee referral for you to help you transition to other interview stages. Reaching out and asking for an employee referral can help you get an interview. But you’ll have to have some rapport for someone to be willing to do it.

4. Send a follow-up email after applying

You can show a recruiter your excitement about a position by sending a follow-up email after applying. You can message them to let you know you applied and share why you’d love to be considered for an interview. This added touch can help set you apart from other candidates. As long as you’re qualified for the role, you could be considered for it.

How to write a cover letter for every job fast

Writing a unique cover letter from scratch for every job can be hard, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write a tailored cover letter for each job. You can use Huntr’s AI cover letter generator to write up a tailored cover letter in seconds for the exact job you’re applying for using your own professional experience. You can also edit or modify it in any way. You can use the cover letter as a starting point, and make drastic changes to it to add your own personal flair to it. Or you can send it as is. You can keep some sections or add your own to ensure you truly have a unique cover letter that impresses hiring managers. To create cover letters in seconds, sign up for Huntr today.

Nicole Martins Ferreira

Nicole Martins Ferreira

Nicole Martins Ferreira, Senior Writer at Huntr, brings a rich background in marketing, tech, and ecommerce to craft insightful content on job search strategies and career advancement. With experience from Super Magic Taste to Shopify, she excels in creating engaging, actionable advice for job seekers.

Nicole's expertise in SEO and content marketing, honed across diverse roles, enables her to effectively guide individuals through the complexities of the job market. Her contributions at Huntr are vital, offering readers valuable tips and strategies to navigate their professional journeys successfully, making her work an invaluable resource for job seekers everywhere.

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