Cover letter, do you need one?

I was part of a debate with some job seekers about when to use a cover letter and when it’s okay to not bother.

I enjoy participating in these debates as you get a great sense for how everyone is ultimately searching for the single rule that can apply universally. Whenever the discussion got close to finding a rule, someone would offer up a situation that would challenge it, and around we’d go one more time.

Here’s a typical sampling of the advice out in the blogosphere, and I’m not surprised to find it conflicts. (ask 6 people and you get 7 answers!)

Anthony over at says he doesn’t bother reading cover letters.
The eweek article he refers to says “Cover letters are important, but not critical. They’re important if you’re applying directly to a company,[…] But cover letters for third-party recruiters aren’t critical. The ATS [applicant tracking system] system even strips them out,”
Heather at Microsoft does read them, but please keep them brief. “but recruiters don’t want to spend much time reading a cover letter”

While the discussion wasn’t able to agree on a rule(s), we did come up with a simple conclusion:

Always include a cover letter, if it’s not needed then it will be ignored, if a cover letter was expected and you didn’t include it then it’s likely to count against you.

6 thoughts on “Cover letter, do you need one?

  1. Good advice. You aren’t going to be penalized for submitting a cover letter even if it isn’t read. If it is at all a cause for concern (“should I have submitted a cover letter with that resume?”), submit it. Then, when you speak with a recruiter, don’t be surprised if it wasn’t read. It’s the whole safe/sorry thing.

    Thanks for the link!

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  4. Nice overview! Totally agree with the conclusion. When I’ve helped with interviews, I’ve seen cover letters have a life well beyond the initial screening. And for all those screeners who feel they don’t have time to even glance at them, I’ve found quite a few terrific candidates whose resumes alone wouldn’t have gotten them to the job…but who turned out to be really great additions to the organizations.

    ~ Ronnie Ann

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