Do I need a cover letter to apply for a job?

That was the question posed to more than 13,000 career professionals across multiple industries via a recent survey on Fishbowl, Glassdoor’s online community for professionals. The answer is complicated.

More than half of all respondents said no, 32% said maybe and less than 10% said yes. You might think that a resume without a cover letter is a non-starter. But a conversation with hiring managers and recruiters tells a different story, notes recruitment specialist, Glassdoor.

For many positions, this formal introduction is a benefit rather than a necessity. The decision to include a cover letter or avoid submitting one may vary depending on the type of position you are applying for.

What is a Cover Letter: A Brief History

For four generations job seekers have been told that a cover letter is a necessary part of the application process. In the 1930s, cover letters were used to explain the denser content of mailed materials.

But The New York Times was the first to use the term in the context of employment in a 1956 job posting.

The use of the cover letter—and of resumes, for that matter—expanded as the American workforce shifted from agricultural work in the late 19th century to industrial and clerical work in the end of World War II. Job seekers suddenly had to explain their education, skills and experience.

In the days when candidates mailed a resume in response to a job ad (which was usually printed in a newspaper), the cover letter was a polite way of saying, “This is who I am, and this is the work I do”. I apply for.

A library of books has since been written explaining how to write catchy cover letters, but they have gradually become less relevant.

With the rise of internet job posting platforms like Glassdoor, Indeed and LinkedIn, applications are no longer sorted by hand in a mailroom – they are automatically grouped by job posting.

In most companies, HR departments are no longer the first filter for resumes; this task belongs to the algorithms.
The pros and cons of cover letters

Recruiters in our Fishbowl feed on cover letters had strong opinions on the subject, ranging from “I’ll do my best to talk to anyone who’s taken the time to write a cover letter” to “I hate them, personally.” The majority of respondents said they don’t like them and that requiring them is outdated.Recruiters are slightly more likely to read cover letters for senior-level positions, compared to entry-level positions.

For higher positions, jobs in academia, or openings that require strong writing skills, a cover letter could help you stand out from the competition. Even if it’s not read, the process of writing a cover letter can help organize your thinking about the opening as you navigate the interview process.

You can also include a cover letter if you need to explain nuances that cannot be conveyed in a resume. This could include:

  • Defining transferable skills when changing industries
  • Detail time gaps on a CV
  • Explain why you are moving
  • Clarify red flags

Tips for a Meaningful Cover Letter

A good cover letter should be short (no more than one page) and detailed. Skip the “To whom it may concern” formalities and go to the specific hiring manager for the position. If you are unsure, contact the company and ask.

If you still can’t find the answer, “Dear hiring manager” or “Dear communications department” might work in a pinch. Before hitting “send”, make sure you’re talking to the right company and the right hiring manager.

Each cover letter should be tailored to the position you are applying for. Cite the specific needs described in the job listing and briefly explain how your experience is relevant.

Most importantly, avoid generalizing about your “enthusiasm” for the company, opportunity, or field. Filler fluff and unnecessary bragging can annoy recruiters and can do more harm than good.

To send or not to send

Cover letters are becoming obsolete, so don’t feel obligated to include one unless the position specifically requires it. If you’re a strong writer or need to explain details that can’t be captured in a resume, sending a cover letter can work in your favor. If you find it difficult to write one every time you apply for a job, consider skipping it.

  • This article first appeared on Glassdoor, and can be found here

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