Job hunting is more complex today than ever before, with recruiters using a variety of technologies to filter or seek applicants. In a world of online applications and emailed resumes, how important is a cover letter in landing a job? According to experts, a personalized letter isn't always required, but including one could provide a better chance at success.
An increasing number of employers are converting to online application processes. Job seekers must upload a resume and then go through an entire application on an employer or recruiter site. Often, there is no option for including a personalized letter, but some forms include a text box or upload option for letters. Unless forms or job listings specifically request a cover letter, you don't have to send one to be considered for a position. Some hiring managers may even ignore information in a letter in favor of the details in your resume.
The director of Career Counseling and Advising at the University of Virginia agrees that a cover letter isn't always a requirement but says they are a good idea. Letters provide a space outside of the structure of resumes or applications to sell yourself to potential employers. Use the letter to expand on pertinent skills, explain something odd about your job history or tell the employer why you want the job. Individuals who are seeking a career change can briefly explain why they are interested in a new field and how past experience may transfer, and new graduates can highlight hands-on experience from school that make them a great candidate for a position.
If you choose to include a cover letter with an application or resume, make sure you get it right. As with tips for resumes, advice for writing professional letters includes things such as checking spelling and grammar, keeping things short and concise and covering only appropriate information. Employers are likely reviewing hundreds of applications; they don't have time to read long letters. Keep letters to a few short paragraphs, and be polite. Begin and end your cover letter with appropriate business greetings, and ensure your paper and printer ink is of decent quality.
A traditional tip for resumes is to address the resume to a specific hiring manager, and the same is true for letters. Not only does addressing a specific person increase the chances that your resume is received and read, it also shows that you're willing to do research and take initiative. If a job listing doesn't specify how to address your application, take a few minutes to check a company's website or make a phone call to find the appropriate manager's name as well as the correct spelling.
In the end, a cover letter isn't always a prerequisite to the hiring process. However, setting yourself apart from other applicants is never a bad thing, and when the review process begins with paper, a letter may be the only way to do so.
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