With the popularity of professional network profiles and automated resume scanning software, should I even bother writing cover letters while applying to jobs?

This is a question that I’m asked often these days.

Candidates that attend our workshops wonder investing time in understanding their profiles & personality types is worth the effort – maybe their carefully crafted letter won’t get read at all; recruiters might pass it on to employers if asked for one; if employers are swamped with resumes, they may consider the cover letter unnecessary.

Yet, there are strong arguments why a professionally written cover letter makes is indispensable. Writing a cover letter helps distill what you consider important that the prospective employer should know about you; it enforces structural discipline to your thinking and forces you to focus on the key points that matter, who you are and what you have to offer. Especially when making unsolicited applications to employers, your cover letter could get your application to the next level. If written well, cover letters provide compelling arguments and serve as powerful tools to an interview. But if done poorly, you could knock the entire thing off!

A well-written cover letter:

  • complements your CV / Resume & professional network presence
  • highlights the most skills relevant to the position
  • presents evidence that you have researched the employer

Beyond responding to a job and using language from the posting, you can explain any gaps or special situations revealed by your CV / Resume. This can refer to job-hopping, or time off for things like a sabbatical or family care. Addressing these in the cover letter lets you explain the circumstances.

An alternative to a full cover letter is an e-mail cover note instead. Many employers will take time to read a concisely worded e-mail, especially if it has a gripping subject line. So, consider including three shortened, customised paragraphs of your cover letter in the body of that e-mail. Then mention that your CV is attached. You can spice up the cover letter by opening with an attention-grabbing question or very short story. Done right, it can stand out and put you top of mind.