Does a resume need a cover letter? It’s a good question.
Career experts and writers have long said, “Yes.” But employer survey data doesn’t always support their answer.
What the Research Says About Resumes Needing Cover Letters
Several surveys have been done on this topic over the last few years. Here are some links and summaries:
- ResumeLab 2022: 77% of recruiters preferred receiving a cover letter.
- Jobvite 2021: 26% of recruiters cared about cover letters.
- The Ladders 2019: Cover letters were most popular with small companies.
The crazy thing? The ResumeLab survey found 72% of recruiters expect letters even when ads say they’re optional.
So, what conclusions can we draw? It seems that when it comes to cover letter requirements:
- Organization size matters.
- Current survey results might or might not matter.
- We can’t rely on surveys to give us consistent information.
Are Cover Letters Necessary?
It’s frustrating. But there are too many micro job markets and confounding variables to put faith in surveys.
They’re interesting for general temperature tests. But they don’t provide an unequivocal “OK” for job seekers to stop writing cover letters.
Thus, unless you can find:
- A current survey
- In your industry
- That says cover letters don’t matter
- And breaks the preference down by organization size
It’s best to include a cover letter with your resume.
However, if it’s the only thing stopping you from applying for a job, cross your fingers and send your resume. You miss all the shots you don’t take.
The Scary Secret Recruiters Keep About Cover Letters
Now, let me tell you about the secret recruiters know, and research has proved:
Your cover letter is at least as likely to knock you out of contention for a job as your resume is, often more so.
Yes, cover letters are potential kryptonite. And recruiters rarely tell you that. Instead, they ask you for a cover letter.
When I recruited:
- I didn’t require cover letters.
- I rarely read them.
- When I read a cover letter, I more often disqualified the candidate than advanced them.
10 Common Cover Letter Mistakes
So, you need to send a cover letter. The recipient might or might not read it. And you must avoid common disqualifying mistakes in case they do.
In my experience, these are the most common mistakes:
- Getting the recipient wrong
- Neglecting to identify the job you want
- Writing a letter that doesn’t make sense (see a fix here)
- Mansplaining (shockingly common, especially economic commentary)
- Sending a pain letter
- Sending a 2-column cover letter
- Typos (use spell check)
- Grammar errors (use Grammarly)
- Confusing piqued and peaked
- Confusing phase and faze
BTW, if you’ve made a cover letter mistake, you might be able to recover from it.
How to Write a Cover Letter
Shifting gears a bit, given that a recipient might read your cover letter, how do you write a great one?
First, my favorite type of cover letter is an opportunity letter. Use it if you can. The link takes you to an explanation and a helpful sample.
Second, I love this short and sweet cover letter example from the Harvard Business Review. The brevity keeps job seekers out of trouble.
ResumeLab says recruiters want the following information. So if you use the HBR example, add a paragraph about your motivation.
A Cool Fact About Resumes and Cover Letters
Finally, I have a bonus round. Do you know that you don’t have to be 100% qualified for a job to apply for it?
If you match 50% of the job posting, go for it.
While market factors affect how picky employers can be, the truth is a lot of job postings are wish lists. Hiring managers don’t expect to get everything in the posting in one person.
And as searches progress, they often change their minds about requirements.
Beyond that, many unarticulated factors go into interviewing and hiring decisions.
Women especially need to pay attention to that 50% number. Per a 2019 LinkedIn study, they apply to 20% fewer jobs than men. However, they’re 16% more likely to get hired when they apply.
You don’t have to be a perfect match to get the job!
Recruiter Call to Action
And, for recruiters reading this post, wouldn’t it be wonderful if you don’t care about cover letters to say so? Many recruiters automatically write, “Send your resume and cover letter to…” without thinking about what they’re asking.
Be fair, don’t put your applicants through the wringer on cover letters if you don’t plan to read them. Writing letters consumes job seekers’ time and energy and usually produces excessive angst.
Thus, if you don’t want a cover letter, say, “We promise we don’t read cover letters. So, please do not include one.”
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Featured by Career Sherpa
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Updated March 2022
© 2015 – 2022, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.
Donna Svei, an executive resume writer and former C-level executive, retained search consultant, and CPA, authors all of AvidCareerist’s posts.
She has written for and been quoted by 100+ business and general media outlets, including Forbes, Mashable, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur, CNBC, the New York Times, USA Today, Time, US News & World Report, CBS, the BBC, Lifehacker, Social Media Today, IT World, and Business News Daily.
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