this is why you need a good cover letter

A reader writes:

I wanted to offer some testimony on why cover letters are so important.

I am currently reviewing applications for several positions with a government agency. Our online application system doesn’t require a cover letter, but applicants can add them if they want. I have a relatively small pool of applicants and quite a few of them have varied work histories that don’t obviously lead to the position that they’re applying for. Reviewing these resumes, I keep thinking, “Huh, I wonder why this person applied for this job. What in their work experience do they think qualifies them for this job? Are they even interested in this job in particular, or just blanket applying to any job in our system?” For the few folks who have cover letters, these questions are usually immediately answered. Several times, I was about to dismiss an application based on not understanding how the experience in the resume would make them a good fit, but then I read the cover letter and it suddenly made sense — into the interview pile they go! In one case, the only four people who wrote cover letters are the only ones getting an interview. Some of them definitely wouldn’t have gotten an interview without the connections that they made in the letter.

Occasionally, a poorly written cover letter means that I don’t interview someone. If the writing isn’t good (and I need writing skills for the position) or if it’s extremely generic and doesn’t answer those questions that I’m asking, that might disqualify someone. But an honestly written letter that explains why you think your years as a llama wrangler actually have prepared you quite well for chocolate teapot design because of skills x, y, and z, and that you’ve always had a passion for hot beverages? As long as you proofread it, it’s almost certainly going to land you in the interview pile here.

Thinking back, one of my strongest employees now was someone who almost didn’t make the interview pile because of her odd work history but she had a really great cover letter, so we gave her a chance and she blew us away in the interview.

Anyway, just wanted to give some perspective to job hunters about why it’s worth making the extra effort to write cover letters, and what I’m hoping to get out of reading them on the other side.

Amen amen amen.

I get so many letters from people asking how they can stand out in a sea of applicants, and this is how. I suspect people are hoping for gimmicky tricks like “send a chocolate bar” or “take out a billboard with your picture on it.” You definitely should not do those things. (Please do not.) What you need is a compelling cover letter that doesn’t just summarize your resume, and you’ll be better off than 95% of your competition.

{ 205 comments… read them below }

  1. RabidChild*

    Here’s my own cover letters matter story:

    I was in charge of hiring our department’s intern one year, and since it was for a position where writing would be key, I paid particular attention to cover letters. One of the applicants had mistakenly attached a cover letter for a completely different position! But let me tell you, it was so well-written that I was immediately impressed. She got an interview and, eventually, the job. I never did tell her of her error–I didn’t want her to feel bad! But I use it as an example of how, as a manager, it’s truly important to approach the interview process with compassion for the experience of job applicants.

    1. RabidChild*

      Adding: By “experience of the applicants” I mean their POV and not their job experience :)

    2. emeemay*

      As an applicant, this is my eternal nightmare! I name everything very specifically and try to triple check my uploads, and even then on occasion I mess up :’D

    3. Ama*

      I hired a woman a year ago who mixed us up in the cover letter with a much larger nonprofit that works in our same general area (a lot of people make this mistake, even people we’ve worked closely with previously). Part of her cover letter even talked about her previous work volunteering with the other nonprofit. I did let her know about the mistake but I didn’t hold it against her, and the volunteering experience was still relevant because it was good to know she had at least a little familiarity with our cause.

      1. Impatient*

        I had a very similar experience when I was in law school. I accidentally didn’t change the name and address on the cover letter I sent, and she kindly responded saying that the other organization was just down the hall and she’d forwarded my email. I responded right away, clarifying that it was my error and I really had meant to send it to her, and I ended up working there that summer!

    4. Neptune’s Nepotist*

      And here is why we don’t submit cover letters.

      Someone worked hard to spend their time writing a cover letter explicitly detailed to your job. Took time, attention to detail, attention to words, (it’s a writing position – so attention to grammar.)

      You hired the person who mistakenly submitted a cover letter for another job, but because you like the way it was written you hired them. When they submit any documents to whoever you’re writing for – if a wrong document is submitted, no matter how good it is, you’ll see it in the invoice under “revisions”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Nah, it’s not good hiring to reject an otherwise excellent candidate over a single mistake. It’s a point against her, certainly, but you look at the entirety of the candidate. If she was stellar and the OP probed for this mistake being part of a pattern and was confident it’s not, there’s nothing wrong with hiring her. People are human. You want employers to allow for people being imperfect humans. I can guarantee you every other candidate they had was imperfect and occasionally makes mistakes as well, whether it showed up in the hiring process or not. Interviewers need to take some mistakes as areas to probe, not as instant deal-breakers.

      2. ecnaseener*

        I really don’t get the connection to “and here is why we don’t submit cover letters.” The point of this anecdote is that cover letters are SO powerful that a good one can even negate a mistake! Yeah, it’s annoying to know you could lose a position to someone who made a mistake when you didn’t make any. But you’re not going to improve your chances by leaving off the cover letter.

        1. RabidChild*

          This was my point, thank you for putting it so well. The young woman we hired clearly knew who we were when we interviewed her and had very well-researched and thought out answers to questions. She attached the wrong cover letter and I didn’t want to hold it against her.

          As Alison has said repeatedly, holding one simple mistake against a candidate is not good hiring practice, and I always strive to extend as much courtesy as I can to applicants.

      3. JB*

        Who is this mystery other candidate who wrote an equally good cover letter (for the correct company) and didn’t even get interviewed? RabidChild did’t mention any such cadidate, and based on what they described, it seems much more accurate to assume that if another candidate HAD submitted such a well-written cover letter, they would have been considered equally if not more preferentially for the position.

        ‘One time we hired someone because they wrote a very good cover letter, even if it was for someone else’ does not mean ‘whenever you, personally, don’t get a job, it’s because someone with equal skills but less attention to detail has been picked instead’.

      4. feral fairy*

        I don’t see how not writing a cover letter has anything to do with this though. It sounds like you’re saying that you don’t submit cover letters because of what you perceive as a lack of fairness, but in effect you will be doing a major disservice to your candidacy. There are jobs where cover letters are not seen as important, but any application where you have the opportunity to upload a cover letter, you have the opportunity to stand out or at the very least shed light on aspects of your experience/qualifications that aren’t as easy to explain on a resume. Based on the fact that RabidChild made this comment, I think we can infer that the candidate ended up being a good employee (otherwise they would not have made this comment about why cover letters are beneficial). It seems like the person who applied was the right choice for the job and I think it’s reassuring that RabidChild gave her a chance despite the mistake.

      5. Stitching Away*

        Says the person ignoring the part where the only people who got interviews were the ones who wrote cover letters.

        You’re working very hard to completely miss the point.

    5. Carmen_sandiego*

      Oooh, yes. Cover letters are so important!! I once applied to a mid-level job in my general field but working in a different aspect of that field (with plenty of crossover skills) and the job announcement explicitly did NOT allow cover letters to be submitted. I found it really bizarre and strangely stressful! I got an interview for the position and it went really poorly. I spent too much interview time trying to convey the sort of things I would have put in a cover letter (why I’m a good fit, why my skills transferred, demonstrating success and problem solving, etc)…and their interview questions were very, very specific and fact-seeking questions (think trivia), so there wasn’t much room to show them how I could do the job despite not knowing every specific fact about the system. In the end, the ‘no cover letters accepted’ was just one of many red flags for this company…but I will never apply for a job again where cover letters aren’t accepted. It just put too much pressure on the interview.

      1. Fran Fine*

        the job announcement explicitly did NOT allow cover letters to be submitted.

        This never made sense to me why some companies do this. I mean, so few people actually bother to send a cover letter in the first place – is reading a handful of them really going to be that burdensome and time consuming?

        1. meyer lemon*

          I can see it if it’s a job where written communication isn’t a relevant skill at all–they might not want to turn off good candidates who can’t be bothered to jump through a hoop that has nothing to do with the job. In that case, though, it’s probably an industry norm and you don’t need to say outright that you don’t want cover letters.

          Otherwise, it seems like bad hiring, but at least it’s considerate of the candidates’ time. I’d be annoyed if I took the time to write a cover letter that got completely ignored. It also tells you something about how they operate. It’s not a great look for them but at least it is reasonably transparent.

          1. Freya*

            I’ve sorted résumé for a boss who was extremely impatient with people who couldn’t follow instructions. “No cover letters” was in the job ad, along with a couple of other things like requesting PDF format, primarily to weed out the people who would not be a good fit with my then-boss’s personality. Nothing against the candidates, but they didn’t deserve my then-boss’s ire, and submitting one was a negative rather than an insta-fail so outstanding candidates still made the cut.

  2. Siege*

    Yeah, we dismissed a couple no-cover-letter applications for a position I’m hiring for because we couldn’t see how their experience made sense. One of them had interviewed for a previous position and didn’t send in a cover letter explaining why they were applying even, which raised questions about how they think they qualify for this role and the other which is a very different one.

    1. Ama*

      That’s the thing — for some reason I get a lot of applicants with marketing/sales backgrounds, even though my positions don’t have any direct marketing or sales work. I’m willing to listen if they can make the case as to how their skills correlate to my open position, but they include cover letters that just talk about how great their marketing skills are without even really acknowledging that the position they are applying for isn’t a marketing position.

      I’m sure most of them are just resume bombing (a lot of them don’t even customize their letter enough to put my employer or the name of our position in) but it does amuse me that people who are supposed to be good at marketing or sales don’t seem to know how to market/sell themselves that effectively.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I think some of them have been told as students that skills acquired in the degree program are so widely transferrable to other jobs, that they mistakenly think that they don’t need to draw a direct line as to how certain of their skills transfer? Kind of like the same scope creep that programs get where the upper-year level faculty want so many things taught at the lower levels that the faculty from the lower year levels reply, “Well why don’t we just teach them everything they need to know in kindergarten and they can skip university all-together!” Except it’s, “The skills from this degree program are so valuable and universally transferrble, that you should be a shoo-in for nearly anything you might ever apply for!”

  3. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

    I agree with this and I give this advice to other people whenever I get the opportunity. And it is ESPECIALLY crucial that career changers use their cover letters this way, because people in your target career probably don’t know all that much about the day-to-day work in the career you’re leaving. As a career changer myself when I applied to my current company, I am so glad that I had the instinct that I would need to explain in my cover letter why my years in career A set me up for success in job B. It was obvious to me, but I knew that most folks don’t have a clear picture of what people in career A really do all day. I had to make those connections for the recruiter and hiring manager to understand why I was even applying.

    1. AskJeeves*

      I think this is really good advice in general. It’s easy to overestimate how much attention your resume will get, or how familiar the resume-reviewer will be with what your work entails. For a cover letter, don’t rely on the reader to connect the dots; do it for them. Show them how you fit into the job and how your skills are transferable or applicable.

    2. anononon*

      And through my students I’m learning how truly varied job titles can be for essentially the same role– sometimes what someone does day-to-day isn’t really reflected in their job title

  4. Sloan Kittering*

    I consider myself an accomplished (?) professional but “the cover letter doesn’t summarize the resume” is STILL something that trips me up sometimes. I have heard this advice before and have been a longtime reader of my blog and still noted last time I was job searching that the entire middle section of my cover letter was basically duplicative. So even if you think you know this, I recommend double checking!!

    1. pocky1_2*

      i struggle so much with this bit – it’s hard not to repeat your resume bullet points. but i try to ask myself what are things they may have questions about, want me to elaborate on, etc. but yes cover letters can be tricky!

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        No kidding. I realized I had basically just restated by educational background with more adjectives. I think it’s even harder when your resume is good, with customized outcomes for each of your bullet points. I almost feel like I only have “fluff” to add after that.

        1. serenity*

          I had this same problem for years before a colleague/friend with MUCH stronger writing skills (and who was much more objective about my words, naturally) looked over my latest cover letter and really took the time to help me strengthen it and show by example how to best explain my experience and my interest.

          I’ve been able to write such better cover letters in the years since. If you can get a second set of eyes (preferably someone who really writes well) to give you input, that might make all the difference.

      2. anononon*

        ignore if you’re not looking for advice, but my approach is to put my resume out of my mind entirely when writing the first draft of my cover letter; I look at the job ad, highlight all of the keywords/skills/qualifications, make notes in the margins for how I fit them all, especially if there’s a pithy anecdote I can tell to demonstrate a skill, isolate the most important things the job ad is emphasizing that I also have strong qualifications for, and use that as an outline for my first draft. Then if there are main things they’re looking for that I don’t fit, I write about why I think I could do that even if I haven’t before in the second to last paragraph. Then I can go in and refine, but I’m starting from a different place than my resume, so it’s less likely to look like I’m just restating the resume.

        1. BubbleTea*

          Yes, this is what I do too. Always start with the advert/job description. It helps to focus and also means you don’t miss anything key.

    2. Language Lover*

      I agree. That’s why I think it’s sometimes easier when it’s a different type of job or a different field than all my experience. I can tell them why what I did would be a good fit and why I want to pursue this new opportunity.

      But applying for a Teapot Groomer when I’m already a Teapot Groomer makes it harder, for me, to write that cover letter.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        I think you’re right. I either end up talking about my “passion” for grooming and what a great colleague I am, which are all totally subjective points, or re-stating my resume (I mean, slightly expanding, but still) in case they missed it.

        1. JB*

          In similar situations, my approach to cover letters has been to hit on all of the following:
          1. If there are any niche areas or extra skills I’m more experienced in than other candidates may be. (These are often covered on my resume but it doesn’t hurt to highlight them again)
          2. Why I’m looking for a new job – moving, looking for growth opportunities, etc.
          3. Why I’m applying to their position in particular – values of their company, ideal work environment, etc.

          Basically I figure it’s just a matter of making a good first impression, so my emphasis is on writing the letter well and making it clear that I’m enthusiastic about the position, not just applying to everything I can find with the same job title.

      2. Amaranth*

        Does it help to focus on why you now want to be a Teapot Groomer *for them* or do you feel it bashes your current company?

      3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

        You can try the “I want to expand my Teapot Groomer skills in a larger/smaller/more international/more local/Saucepan-Adjacent market” strategy.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yeah but that’s one sentence! I’ve got a blank page staring me down here haha.

          1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

            Please ignore me if you’re not looking for tips:

            That one sentence is the introductory sentence. Expand further with ideas like:

            *Why draws you about this expansion
            *Why now and why this company?
            *How are you r

            1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

              Ugh, slippery thumbs…

              *How are you ready for this expansion now?
              *Why do you want to stay in Teapot Grooming, rather than moving into management or a differet field?
              *What seems interesting about this company’s approach, culture, reach, clientele, etc.?

      4. meyer lemon*

        Yeah, this is the difficult one. Particularly when you’re in an industry where the job you’re doing is very similar across companies. It’s hard to stand out in an interview too–there’s a lot of “Oh yeah, I do that every day … that too … and that.”

        One thing that at least makes the letter writing process easier is to take a slightly more philosophical tack, describing how you approach the work and what you find meaningful about it. This might not work for all industries, but if nothing else, it does give them a sense of what it would be like to work with you specifically, rather than any other person with the same skills.

    3. chronic lurker*

      As someone who’s done a lot of hiring, the advice I give to people is tell me why you’ll make my life better. If I’m hiring I’m looking to fix a problem, the letter is where you tell me why you’re the person who will do that. In that sense I think, the resume is about you (applicant) and the cover letter is about me (hiring org). Maybe that helps?

      1. Khatul Madame*

        Your last point is absolutely on point (ahem…), but the bit about fixing a problem should be treated with caution, because you are approaching The Pain Letter territory. Google if you want to know more.

        1. Yorick*

          Right, the candidates don’t know what your problem is or how they could solve it. And they could imagine problems and solutions, but you’ll be annoyed when they’re wrong.

          1. JB*

            Sure, but you don’t need to.

            Next week I’m starting a new job that’s a career shift for me. In my cover letter, I emphasized some of my more universal skills that I know I’m quite good at. One of them was – let’s say for example – writing form letters.

            Well, I didn’t know that their department has a huge need for someone with that skill right now. But it came up quickly in the interview that they currently don’t have anyone with that skill, and they were excited about me as a candidate (and more willing to train me on parts of the job I am less familiar with than other candidates) because I’ll be able to write and maintain a library of form letters for them.

            There are many skills you have that solve problems. Touch on all of them briefly. Think about anything that you know your current boss would come to you in particular for.

          2. chronic lurker*

            oh I mean ‘problem’ in a very broad sense, meaning in most cases I have a vacancy. That could be for lots of reasons, but for whatever reason that is, there’s a gap that I need to fill – which is always somewhat of a hassle. So don’t be telling me about your life goals / dreams / fears / childhood wants & needs, tell me why you’re the best solution to me right now.

            Problem was possibly wrong word here, sorry it wasn’t clear.

    4. LabTechNoMore*

      Same! In fact, I just bookmarked this page, because invariably I end up at the “What is a cover letter, really?” stage of writing and draw a blank. Seeing OP spell it out in concrete terms will help next time I’m stuck.

      Thanks, OP!

    5. HireMeI'mCool*

      I base it on skills from what’s in the job description, and support this with examples from previous jobs.

  5. Robin Ellacott*

    My boss told me he hired me (or at least interviewed me) because of my cover letter. It wasn’t in the ad but they’d hoped to find someone who could write well.

    And a cover letter is a big asset in being hired here now, especially if it explains an odd career trajectory, answers an obvious question from the resume, or links other past experience or skills to the position. It’s rare that we wouldn’t interview someone who took the time to make a relevant cover letter that didn’t have obvious red flags (we did get one once that said bitterly that none of their previous employers had realized how exceptionally smart they are, which didn’t get an interview).

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Agreed on the importance for people with odd trajectories, people looking to change industries, etc. We had an applicant from an entirely different industry that we might well have passed over because the apparent gulf between his old job and our role was so huge, but he wrote a great cover letter that let us see how the experience was really relevant, so he got an interview and we hired him!

    2. Colette*

      Yeah, I think that if you start as a junior teapot polisher, move to a teapot polisher, then apply for a senior teapot polisher position, a cover letter is less effective – it’s clear what your career trajectory is. If you start as a junior teapot polisher, move to a spout specialist, then apply for a teacup position, it’s far more useful.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        Yes, definitely. And it’s even more crucial if you’ve worked as a teapot technician and you’re applying to be a kettle inspector. You need to show how your teapot experience applies to kettles, how the qualities of a good teapot technician will be helpful as an inspector, etc.

        1. Robin Ellacott*

          Yes, and we’ve had a few people who looked overqualified on paper but had excellent reasons for wanting to work with us in more of a starting role… without a cover letter we might not have interviewed them because it would have seemed that they hadn’t read the ad, or wouldn’t stay.

  6. Lana Kane*

    If I get a resume without a cover letter, and the work experience makes sense, I’m not fussed about the lack of a letter. I would interview that person even if others with the same level of experience also included one. However, the connection between your experience and the job posting should be *super* clear: if I’m hiring for a motorcycle mechanic, a resume that only mentions trucks isn’t enough for me to go on. (Just an example – I have no idea if the 2 are commensurate.)

    From a hiring manager’s perspective, cover letters are indispensable without that clear connection – if your work history doesn’t seem to match the job, I won’t interview you unless there’s a cover letter to give me more context. Candidates may think that that’s what the interview is for, but it isn’t. The application is where you make your case as to why moving forward makes sense – and if your resume doesn’t show that, a cover letter should.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      I agree with this. But also, your resume may not be as clear as you think about your experience! I’ve done a couple of rounds of hiring for relatively junior positions in the last few years, and it’s often quite challenging to make sense of the various jobs, research projects, internships, schools, etc., especially because students and new grads are often doing multiple things part-time or in overlapping ways, and sometime working for organizations in multiple locations simultaneously. I would often have to take a minute or two to try to figure out what was what on a resume, especially the ones that had a section of “relevant projects” from different sources. Knowing that something was very relevant but was a class project versus done for an internship versus done as a research assistant is important context.

      A cover letter sentence that starts “Doing an internship with the X company during my study abroad year in Y city…” can make some of that all click into place and help the resume itself do a better job of telling the story of your experience.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        A perfect example would be for a job that asks about experience working with people of diverse backgrounds, different age groups, etc.. It may be obvious to you that the time you worked in Kenya/at a Latinx non-profit serving elders and children/disability advocacy group = experience working with people of diverse backgrounds, but it might not be to a reader. In Kenya, you might have only worked with white ex-pats of a similar education and income. At the non-profit and advocacy groups, it might not be obvious that you worked directly with people from those communities in a peer role as well as a community you served. Being able to explain, “During my time at X org in Kenya I worked as the sole technical consultant to Ministry X in a regional office. My team consisted of…..”, “In my role as Squirrel Wrangler at Nonprofit Y, I was a member of a community advisory group and worked with Youth Organization R to expand access to…”, etc. in a cover letter makes it much more clear.

  7. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    From the applicant perspective, I have found writing cover letters useful for being able to weed out the jobs that I am interested in into the ones that I am 1) both interested in and really well qualified for; 2) interested in but not quite as qualified as I first thought when reading the job ad; 3) interested in and really not qualified for; and 4) qualified for but really not interested in based on how easily the cover letter flows. If it kind of just writes itself then it is a 1. If I have to work a little harder to write, it is a 2 and it shows the areas where I need to prep more for the interview. If it is a 3 or 4, it makes me question whether it is worth applying at all.

    1. Bostonian*

      This is a really interesting perspective. I had a similar experience writing a cover letter and having a really hard time with the part where I put exactly what it is about the role that interests me. That was a sign that maybe it wasn’t as good of a next step as I thought!

    2. Notfunny.*

      Yes, this is so true! If I can’t find anything to get excited about or feel like I could be successful at, then perhaps it isn’t the right role or the right organization. Especially as I’ve gotten further into my career, the mission of the organization has become much more important so it’s an excellent check to make sure that my values and the organizational values are a fit.

    3. Teapot Repair Technician*

      Yes. In my experience, it is easy to express enthusiasm for a prospective job and confidence in my qualifications when those feelings are genuine.

      Every job I’ve ever been offered and accepted has started with a cover letter leaping from my brain onto the page.

    4. Carmen_sandiego*

      Exactly! If I struggle writing the cover letter, I have found that I’m not fully vested in the job (and thus the application) and it’s better to not continue. Of course, this absolutely means I’ve been privileged enough to left a decent opportunity pass, and that may not always be the case.

  8. Momma Bear*

    Absolutely. I also sometimes need to know why you are applying to a non-WFH opportunity from another state. Are you serious about the application or just spitballing? Are you moving to the area for a spouse or other opportunity or are you going to be asking us for relocation money? That matters, too. But in general, cover letter applicants always get a 2nd look from me. They may not get an invite to interview, but I appreciate knowing why they want the job.

    1. Josh Lyman*


      I am reviewing resumes right now and you seem great, candidate, but you are in Detroit. Why are you applying from Detroit when we are in New York? Tell me in the cover letter. If you don’t, then I won’t interview you.

      1. Pool Lounger*

        I wonder if this holds true in academia or libraries, where you’re told to expect to have to move for jobs. When I hired in academic libraries most resumes were out of state. I just assumed the applicants wanted a good job and were willing to move for one.

        1. David*

          Yeah, in academia (as far as my experience suggests) it’s so common to be applying to jobs located elsewhere that I’d think it would stick out as strange to try to justify it in a cover letter.

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      And a line of explanation in the cover letter is also important if you have just relocated and weren’t able to apply for jobs before you moved. When I was in this situation earlier this year, the first line of my cover letter was: “I recently relocated to [area] and I’m excited to apply for [position].” Whoever is reading your application has zero context on you and your situation unless you give it to them.

      1. mousekatool*

        I’m in the now and I just realized I need to put this in the first paragraph and not the last! THANK YOU. I’m going to update my coverletter asap.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          You’re welcome and good luck! That sentence really does need to go at the beginning so that they can’t miss it.
          Also, I found it helpful to change my LinkedIn summary to say “experienced [job title] looking for work in [area]” and to change my page header image to a photo I’d taken of a well-known landmark in my new area.

    3. Junior Assistant Peon*

      As someone who’s recently been on the hiring manager end of the process, I assumed all non-local applicants were just blast-applying to everything they could find. A cover letter expressing interest in relocation to my area would have gotten the candidate a closer look from me.

  9. Flying Fish*

    I just applied and was offered a position for a job with a big healthcare organization with an electronic application system. Oddly, there was no place to upload a cover letter. You could upload a resume, but it wouldn’t allow for a second file. I ended up putting my cover letter in with my resume in one document just to submit it!

    1. PT*

      This is a huge problem. There’s nowhere to put it, or it’s not apparent there’s nowhere to put it until the submission is complete.

    2. Bee Eye Ill*

      Sometimes those online applications are so clumsy they almost serve as part of the screening process to see how interested you really are. Combining the documents was a great idea!

  10. Bostonian*

    Yes! Yes! Yes! As a hiring manager, I have had the same experiences you describe! Explaining a mismatch in background/experience is also particularly important in roles that are hard to fill/require a long time to get up to speed: I want to be confident that the person truly wants this role as much as I want them to be good at it. If I look at your CV and have no idea why you’re interested in the role I’m hiring for, I’m not going to waste my time on a phone call to find out.

  11. Green great dragon*

    LW – everybody – this is another way that disadvantage perpetuates. If cover letters help candidates, then ask for them, and even better, tell your applicants what you’re looking for in them. Otherwise those who have someone to tell them cover letters are helpful and help write them will get in, and those without will not.

    Not a dig at LW, who is helping to spread the word by writing to Alison, but a plea to everyone writing a job ad. At least until Alison’s book becomes part of a national careers curriculum.

    1. Monty & Millie's Mom*

      I agree! I’ve mentioned “privilege” in this space before, referring to types of jobs and who has access to them, and this is a good (but bad!) example as well. And personally a pet peeve! How is any job applicant supposed to know what a hiring manager is actually looking at/for if we are supposed to guess, or know the secret unwritten expectation? There are hiring managers who will not proceed with applicants unless they follow directions in the job posting EXACTLY, but apparently there are hiring managers who expect applicants to read minds and not job postings. It’s frustrating!

      1. MassMatt*

        If you are applying for a position of X and it states candidates should have 3 years experience with x and skills y and z, and your resume is all about your background in ABC, you really have not shown how you fit this job, why you are applying, or why you should be interviewed. Really you are asking the employer to read minds since your resume does not match the job on its own.

        Hiring managers are seeking to hire someone to fill a role, not educate the applicant pool or the world in general on job-hunting skills.

        1. Andy*

          > If you are applying for a position of X and it states candidates should have 3 years experience with x and skills y and z, and your resume is all about your background in ABC,

          This is another one of my pet peeves. If the 3 years experience with x is required, then the resume witout 3 years of experience should be rejected – cover letter or not. If it is not required, then dont put required into add.

          It is ridiculous that honest people with 2 years of experience will self-select themselves out, but hiring manager will then hire someone with 0 experience.

          Speaking about privilege, having candidate guess which requirements are real gives advantage literally to those whose life experience is that rules bend for them – the people with the most priviledge.

        2. Anoni*

          Explicitly state you want a cover letter. Period. The end. It’s not that hard to do. Believe it or not, not being explicit, as were mentioned by Green great dragon and Monte & Millie’s Mom, perpetuates inequality.

    2. ErgoBun*

      This is a GREAT idea and I will remember it for the next time I’m hiring! (Assuming that HR lets me deviate slightly from the approved job ad format.)

    3. Bostonian*

      Otherwise those who have someone to tell them cover letters are helpful and help write them will get in, and those without will not

      That’s not really what anyone is saying though. Cover letters aren’t blanket good and therefore always include one.

      So what’s the solution? Ask that “Everybody who doesn’t have a similar background submit a cover letter”? That would be confusing. What constitutes the right background? And if it’s not required of everyone, then it doesn’t make sense to ask it of everyone.

      1. Anoni*

        Literally that is what people further down are saying. Literally there is a person saying even when they don’t ask for one, assume they want one and include it. Either explicitly say you don’t want one or explicitly say you do. The applicant can figure the rest out. People really don’t want to do small things to help dismantle inequity.

    4. Jellyfish*

      Yes, the ad for my current job explicitly said to submit a cover letter detailing how I met each of the required qualifications for the work. It made structuring the letter much easier, and I was more confident that I wasn’t going off the rails with it.

      1. Paige*

        This. And it goes both ways–If I know what you’re expecting out of the cover letter I’m writing for you, it makes it so much easier to write. If I know what I’m expecting out of a cover letter I’m going to read, it makes it so much easier to evaluate if the applicant is qualified or not.

        I think the lack of any direction or idea what’s being looked for is what makes cover letters so hard for some people, since unless you’re a regular at this site, the idea of what’s supposed to go into a cover letter is pretty amorphous and vague.

      2. Washi*

        I mean, I have used this exact language in job postings, plus made it mandatory to either upload an attachment or type in a text box in order to submit the application, and MANY people just put “n/a” in the text box. I wouldn’t assume this OP didn’t indicate the importance of cover letters.

    5. TL -*

      I mean, cover letters are a fairly accepted part of the application process. Job descriptions should clarify to “submit resume and cover letter to…” But it’s pretty well known that cover letters are commonly required.

      The bigger issue is helping people understand what a good cover letter should have and why to write one.

      1. Green great dragon*

        I don’t think the first part of this is true. The original letter says ‘For the few folks who have cover letters…’ But I agree with your second para.

        1. Colette*

          “Send a cover letter” is not really an obscure idea. A lot of people who know that don’t send them because they don’t think they matter or they don’t want to put in the effort.

          1. MassMatt*

            It’s so easy to apply to tons of jobs with little to no effort now many people are using the shotgun approach and applying to every job they see remotely connected to their field. Writing a cover letter for even different main sub-fields would be a lot of work, let alone letters tailored to each job/employer. This is a good reason to take time to write them, it will separate you from the pack.

            The change has not been “cover letters are irrelevant now”, it’s “lots of people are applying for tons of jobs they have no real interest in or hope of getting, because they can”.

          2. Stitching Away*

            Not obscure to you, perhaps. And not to the majority. But that’s the point you’re missing. The norms are obscure to those who most need to know them, because they are coming from a place of disadvantage.

            1. Anoni*

              Precisely. A lot of “obvious” and “widely accepted” norms of applying for white collar jobs are very specifically rooted in class and race and how they intersect.

        2. PollyQ*

          We’ve seen letters here before that say that even when they’ve explicitly requested a cover letter, many applicants still don’t submit one.

          1. Anoni*

            That doesn’t mean job posters should stop being explicit; it just means the person applying didn’t complete their application.

      2. BRR*

        Yeah at some point you’re assessing an applicants skills. Ask for a cover letter if you want one, say you don’t want one if you won’t read it. But I think saying what to put in them is around where the line is. At least if you’re hoping for a candidate with some independent problem solving skills.

      3. LTL*

        There are many hiring managers who don’t read cover letters. Some of this is field-dependent but even within the same field, you see a variety.

        At the very least, if a hiring manager knows they’re not going to read a cover letter, the job posting should have a note saying “please don’t submit a cover letter.”

    6. BugSwallowersAnonymous*

      Yeah, sometimes I haven’t submitted a cover letter because the ad didn’t ask for one, and so I didn’t want to give the hiring manager something they didn’t ask for! But it’s good to know that it can be an advantage, and the explanation about making the case for your work experience makes sense.

    7. Dr. Doll*

      How about “cover letter optional but encouraged”? Or “cover letters invited”? Or, if appropriate to the situation, “cover letters not accepted”?

      1. Mental Lentil*

        Unless a job posting specifically says “Do not include a cover letter” they are always an option and should be sent.

        I can say this louder for the folks in the back, but I think Alison has done a pretty good job of that already.

        1. Dr. Doll*

          My suggestions for verbiage were in response to Great Green Dragon’s observation that inequities perpetuate when expectations aren’t transparent.

        2. Anoni*

          I’m of the opinion that if you want a cover letter, be explicit and say so. Don’t leave it to people to divine from the atmosphere what you want. Give everyone a list of everything you want them to include. It’s not really that difficult to be explicit.

    8. Em*

      Especially bc this is government hiring–if its US federal hiring, anyway– I’ve been trying to break into and has very frustrating rules for resume writing that aren’t easy to learn. Most federal hiring experts say not to bother with cover letters. Lots of HR depts will apparently throw them right out and never read them. It’s maddening to read that sometimes they’re the deciding factor! I have one of thise backgrounds that I can explain much better with a cover letter but when 80% of your advisors tell you not to waste your time on one…

  12. Rez123*

    I have a question. If you are applying for a job that has a form application (most jobs that I’ve applied) and it has question boxes like “how is your previous work experience relevant?”, “what are you strenghts and weaknesses?”, “why are you applying for this job?”, “tell me about yourself” and other open ended questions that are quite cover lettery. Should you still attach a cover letter? How different should it be from the answers?

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I would still attach a cover letter just because those answers might only be seen by the HR screener and may not get passed to the hiring manager.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      I would.
      Worst case scenario is that it’s redundant. I don’t see how it would hurt the application.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Any faux pas would hurt the applicant.

        If I say I composed 400M (400,000) lines of code last year and the HM is a strict SI-adherent, my cover letter is fancy toilet paper. Or if the tone is too formal or informal. Or the wrong metrics are focused (lines of code is actually pretty poor way to judge a programmer, as are bugs fixed, etc). A typo, or a word used correctly that most people don’t (it’s not a moot point that mute finds its way into sentences that nothing to do with speaking).*

        Managers confess they’re looking for reasons to exclude applicants to winnow the pool of candidates down to a manageable number all the time. Your cover letter can be 500 words of ammunition for that effort if you’re not careful.

        *It just occurred to me… A quiz on emotional intelligence could look a lot like composing a cover letter…

        1. Colette*

          If you don’t match what they are looking for in the job, you will be disqualified. Whether that’s because they want someone with better writing skills than you have, you’re out.

          But they’re not looking to disqualify you, they are looking for the right fit. If you don’t demonstrate that that’s you, they’ll move on. And the bar for the right fit changes based on who applies. You can’t control who else applies, but you can control how strong you make your application, and a cover letter is part of that.

    3. Impatient*

      I’m applying for one of those now. I’m including the cover letter I wrote, but the questions are good for identifying what’s important to the hiring team. (They’re also helpful for adding additional context that would otherwise make the cover letter too long!)

    4. Rez123*

      Those who would write a cover letter, what would you write? Repeat what you answered in different words? Something totally different? Would you use your good stuff on the answers or the cover letter?

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        On this site’s menu, select ‘topics’ and scroll down to ‘cover letters’ for Alison’s advice.
        Anything I’d write in a comment would be redundant.

        1. Rez123*

          I wasn’t asking for an example cover letter. I meant that if the application has coverletter type open ended questions and you still write a cover letter. Would you write the same things (in different words) to the cover letter as to the open ended questions or would you make the cover letter totally different. And if you already have perfected the cover letter, would you use the parts of the cover letter on the open ended questions or keep it in the cover letter?

          I’m sure the answer will vary between hiring managers but I think this is interesting since I can’t remember the last time I’ve applied to a job with a cv and cover letter.

    5. TheLinguistManager*

      We do this at my company – only a few questions (I think just “why do you want to work here?” and “are you okay working remotely?” since we are 100% remote whether there’s a pandemic on or not). I like to see a cover letter personally but if it’s clear someone has put the same kind of effort into answering the application questions, that counts to me.

      Overall, what I’m looking for is for an applicant to tell me why I should consider them for this job, and there are multiple ways to get that across to me.

  13. Exhausted Trope*

    Thanks, OP!! It’s extremely helpful to hear your thought process on cover letters. This will definitely change how I will write them in the future.

  14. ErgoBun*

    I wish more people in tech — or looking to get in to tech — would take this advice! I hire for creative/technical hybrid positions in front-end development, interface design, and user experience. I can count on one hand the number of cover letters I’ve received in over 10 years of hiring. When I get a resume that lists years of experience in car sales, marketing, or theater makeup, and then a sharp pivot into a technical “boot camp” and some freelance work… I’m going to have questions. A cover letter could answer those questions, but generally I’ve got nothing, and I pass on those applications immediately. I don’t need a beautifully-worded cover letter, just some explanation as to why this candidate stopped doing SFX makeup and now wants to make websites for a medical organization.

    1. Anhaga*

      OMG, yes!! I’m in a specialized subset of web development & design where we can very easily train people who have basic bootcamp experience, but I need to be sure that the person 1) is really interested in our subset of development & design; 2) can write fairly clearly and concisely; and 3) can follow the dang directions I lay out in the job posting even though Indeed doesn’t let you include a required file input dedicated to cover letters. When we get lots of applicants for a position on my team, I will automatically relegate those who don’t follow the cover letter instructions to the “probably not” pile unless their resume shows something really clear and compelling that connects them to our specialized work.

      1. Big Buddy*

        I think what’s kind of hard in tech, especially the design side, is that it is required to have a portfolio. Submitting a resume, portfolio *and* a cover letter is a lot of work for one applicant, and many of the things you mention could be covered in a portfolio. 1) Their niche in design 2) Their writing ability 3) This one admittedly doesn’t apply

  15. MassMatt*

    Alison hit the nail on the head re: cover letter being essential to show why your experience applies to THIS particular job if it’s not immediately obvious–i.e. people changing careers, or whose actual experience is with X even though their job titles are Y. I know there are some areas where cover letters are not the norm, but in most cases, a good cover letter will definitely help you get into the “interview” pile.

    With that said, people definitely try stupid gimmicks with cover letters as well–sending poems, using bizzarely colored paper and fonts, etc.

    I once got a cover letter where the writer started each paragraph with a large bold letter, spelling out the company name. I suppose she was lucky we weren’t Xerox.

  16. Spearmint*

    I totally believe good cover letters can help in some cases, but to be honest I have a hard time squaring the enthusiasm for cover letters on this site with my experiences, those of my friends, and what I read elsewhere.

    I personally have not seen much correlation between how good I thought my cover letter was and whether I got an interview or not. In fact, my current job didn’t even require a cover letter and I did not submit one (they did have a brief writing exercise after the first interview to assess writing skills). Meanwhile, there were many other jobs where I spent hours honing a letter I was proud of only to not hear back at all. And I don’t think any interviewer I’ve talked to has referenced or given any other indication that they read my cover letter. Whether I got an interview seemed wholly dependent on how closely my resume bullets lined up with the job description.

    Based on what I’ve read online, it seems like many/most companies don’t even pass along cover letters to hiring managers anymore, and then the hiring managers who do see cover letters have too many applications to sift through to spend more 10-15 seconds scanning it.

    It’s probably best practice to write a good letter anyway for the managers that do care about it, but I think we should be honest that for most applications the letter won’t be helpful at all. This is super frustrating because writing cover letters is by far the most time consuming part of applying for jobs IME.

    1. Colette*

      I’d suggest thinking of cover letters like a bonus question on a test where you need 80% to pass. You can get 78% and get an extra 2% from a correctly answered bonus question, and you pass. You can get 90% without the bonus question, and you pass. You can get 76%, and the 2% of the correctly answered bonus question still won’t take you over the line. Or you can get 79% and answer the bonus question incorrectly and not make it.

      Similarly, a cover letter can make the difference between not getting an interview and getting one – if it demonstrates what the employer is looking for, and if you were close enough to the line for it to matter.

    2. Bostonian*

      Definitely varies by industry and type of role. People will have different experiences with this.

    3. Anhaga*

      I’d guess this has something to do with the kind of role you’re in and the career paths associated with it. If there’s a pretty standard career path/progression, the cover letter will be less necessary unless your resume somehow doesn’t match that expected path. For those of us interviewing for positions where there are a range of viable paths in, cover letters can be critical to sorting out good candidates.

      1. Lana Kane*

        Agreed. I interview for roles that are not entry level, but certain biases make people think they are. So you have a bunch of people applying with wildly varying backgrounds, that have nothing to do with the job. If the linear progression I’m looking for isn’t in the resume, I would like the person to help me understand how they believe their experience is commensurate. Otherwise I’m going to assume you’re resume bombing.

        If I get a resume that hits all the background points I’m looking for then the cover letter is more like a nice plus.

    4. TL -*

      Oh, I’m a writer and I wouldn’t take a job where they didn’t look at my cover letter. A bit specific, but cover letters are important for any job where written communication is a key skillset.

      1. Texan In Exile*

        At my old job, my boss was recruiting for someone with writing skills – but he was not requiring a cover letter.

        One applicant, Ms X, had a link to her blog on her resume. The blog was horribly written – not just punctuation errors (as in, not even starting a sentence with a capital letter and no she was no bell hooks) but also bad, bad writing. She did not know how to develop an idea.

        And when I interviewed her, she panicked at the idea of writing – she thought we would be outsourcing everything to an agency. Nope. We were the agency.

        I told my boss not to hire her.

        He hired her anyway.

        Three months later, he told me, “You were right! She is an awful writer! Maybe I can send her to some training.”

        I answered, “She’s 42 years old. She has a communications degree. She is not going to get any better.”

        (And yet, after a huge re-org, she is the only one of our team of four still standing. My boss was moved to another group, I was re-orged out by the new boss, and another co-worker – who is brilliant at her job – quit. The least competent person on the team is the one the new boss loves and the one who is still there. Whatever.)

    5. Filosofickle*

      Anecdata from the other side, I’ve had many interviewers over the year tell me my letter (& letter format, which used to be unusual) got me the interview. That said, in my field proving I can market myself and tell a good story are highly correlated with doing the work so it makes sense.

      1. Filosofickle*

        But I still don’t hear back on most applications / letters! It’s a big time investment that only intermittently pays off.

        1. Texan In Exile*

          Same! I have gotten interviews for jobs that don’t even exist because I can write a great cover letter. (I saw a director-level job and wrote that although I was not qualified for that position, I would be great reporting to the person.)

    6. Amie*

      Same! I’ve never had an interviewer bring up my cover letter even though I put a lot of effort into them. It always the stuff that I highlighted on my resume.

    7. BRR*

      I think first it will depend on the role. A lot of people don’t look at them or care but I think that’s just bad hiring. Like places that don’t do a phone screen. But whenever I see people saying on here they spent hours writing a cover letter I do think it shouldn’t take them that long.

    8. TheLinguistManager*

      I don’t know where your online sources are getting their info, but in all the hiring I’ve done, applicants’ materials are all in an ATS (applicant tracking system) and I as the hiring manager can see resume, cover letter, other materials, email correspondence between us and them, and interview feedback.

      Some hiring managers may not *look* at cover letters, but it’s hard for me to imagine that talent folks aren’t uploading them to the ATS. Maybe it happens more in very small companies?

    9. meyer lemon*

      It helps to think about what a cover letter actually provides to hiring managers:

      1) evidence of your writing ability
      2) extra context about your candidacy

      So it will be most helpful for positions where good writing is essential, where good writing is a useful bonus, or where the extra context is useful to show why you may be a stronger candidate than your resume alone may suggest.

      If you’re a good writer or if you’re transferring to a position that is not a clear match with your background, you’ll probably see the most benefit. But if you use the cover letter to provide some extra insight into your background, skills and approach, you may find that some of that bonus content appeals to the hiring manager even if they didn’t previously realize they needed it.

    10. londonedit*

      In my industry (book publishing) and my location (UK) I’ve never seen a job advert that didn’t require a CV and cover letter. Ever since I graduated from university nearly 20 years ago, every single job I’ve applied for has required a cover letter. So to me, it’s totally normal, and I struggle to understand why some people baulk so much at the idea! Perhaps it’s because publishing is a creative/writerly/editorial sort of industry, perhaps because it’s extremely competitive at every level, I don’t know, but sending a cover letter is absolutely the convention when you’re applying for a job.

      1. Motorina*

        It may be your industry. I’m NHS (so definitely UK) and it’s a standard application form with clear instructions not to add any other material. I suspect – don’t know, but suspect – that anything outwith the form would be stripped by HR along with name etc before the application got to me. Even if the technology allowed it to be uploaded.

        Having said that, the application form includes some of those broader questions one might expect a cover letter to address, and it’s amazing how many candidates simply don’t fill them in. Which does make shortlisting straightforward.

  17. Lacey*

    I so appreciate all the advice on this website about cover letters. When I was job searching it really helped me figure out what my cover letter should be. I worked in a super competitive field, so I know it made a difference.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I’m still stumped; they all read to me like the applicant already has the job and knows what the metric will be, where usually I need to get through at least two interviews to figure out which requirements listed are fluff to discourage the masses from applying and which are actual skills I’ll need to be able to use on the job if offered to me.

      I’d love to see a cover letter for a Senior Developer position, just to wrap my head around the concept.

      N.B. Programming jobs

      1. Mental Lentil*

        which requirements listed are fluff to discourage the masses from applying

        I have never created a job posting with this in it.

        A job posting is basically an advertisement. I need to get the right people to read as much of it as possible to encourage them to apply. Putting pointless fluff in there would be a terrible waste of real estate. I don’t even know what that fluff would look like.

        My job postings described exactly the skills and experience we need. Why would I ask for anything else?

        From the applicant side, though, thoroughly reading the company’s website can sometimes help with this. (And also, I have seen some terribly worded job postings that have so few tangible points that the only conclusion I can come to is that they are just cattle call type job postings, meant for the gullible or the truly desperate.)

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I don’t even know what that fluff would look like.

          This is from a listing from a few months ago…
          5 years’ Healthcare industry experience.
          3-4 years’ experience in Quadient Inspire*
          Experience in developing Java based applications
          5+ years related work experience in development.
          Related Bachelor’s degree or additional related equivalent work experience
          Composing customer communication applications using Quadient Inspire platform
          Experience in the Quadient Inspire platforms Versions 12/14
          Experience in using Inspire Scaler, Production, and Interactive modules
          Experience in composing Batch, On Demand Communications, and REST Services
          Experience in Inspire Scripting

          *The entire suite is named Inspire, but the product in question was actually Inspire Designer.

          I declined to interview based on only having the bolded experience. The recruiter called me back, desperate for a candidate, and talked me into interviewing; during the interview, it turns out the underlined requirement was the only actual one. The others were claimed to be nice-to-have, 5+ years down the road, something they were expecting to teach candidates, or weren’t actually part of the job.

          I was uncomfortable being an authority/reference on so many platforms that I had literally zero experience with, so declined to stay in consideration. I didn’t actually believe that I wouldn’t be held accountable for not having ⅔ of the nominal job requirements. I got the same job description back 6 weeks later with a few more technologies added and all the years increased to 6-7.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            I must have used the wrong tag for underlining. 3-4 years’ experience in Quadient Inspire* was the only actual requirement.

          2. Mental Lentil*

            Okay, fair enough. But here’s the deal: I’m in a small org, and I write the job descriptions, the job postings, and I hire, train, and manage these people. But larger organizations aren’t like that! Often the people you will be working with or for have zero input into the hiring process, including writing the job posting.

            Also, keep in mind that most men will respond to a job posting even if they think they just meet the minimal requirements, whereas most women will only apply if they meet all the requirements, and that job postings may be written with this in mind, which is perhaps where you’re seeing “fluff”. Gender does play a role in these sorts of things.

            And keep in mind, job postings are often written for the ideal candidate, with the people responsible for hiring knowing full well that this exact person won’t walk through the door with these exact qualifications because that person doesn’t exist. (I have a role like that here I’m trying to fill.) But if you match some of the qualifications, and can be trained on the rest, I want to talk to you. There’s no way for an applicant to know that ahead of time, but if they show a strong enough interest in some of these areas, and are trainable on the rest, again, I want to talk to them.

            I know you’ve been burned on some things before, but if you adjust your outlook and try to see the bigger picture, maybe it will help.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              I’m at peace with passing on that job. If I’d been hired, I’d be hated for moving up without the underlying qualifications and experience (cf. failing up).

              Also, keep in mind that most men will respond to a job posting even if they think they just meet the minimal requirements, whereas most women will only apply if they meet all the requirements, and that job postings may be written with this in mind, which is perhaps where you’re seeing “fluff”. Gender does play a role in these sorts of things.

              You’re saying the fluff in programming listings is there more to discourage the women from applying than it is to discourage the risk averse?

      2. Colette*

        Here is a possible snippet:
        In my latest job, we were using the Agile methodology, which allowed me to build strong relationships with the clients. As a result, I was able to deliver my software quickly, with everything the client was looking for. In fact, the client team had to add an additional person to keep up with the requirements my team needed!

        We used a variety of readily-available software packages, and I was the Kubeflow expert on the team. I answered questions, wrote up tips and tricks for my colleagues, and gave presentations to the team to help them better use the software.

      3. Nethwen*

        I can’t speak to programming or for any other hiring manager, but for me, I don’t care if the applicant doesn’t make an accurate connection between what they have done and what they think the job will be. I’m more concerned that they are thinking about the connections. Even for the applicants who don’t quite understand the position, they’ve never been so far off that I thought they were insane. Their conclusions have always been in the ballpark and I recognized that there was no way they’d have the background to know the details.

        For example, a cover letter might say, “As a mosaic setter, I work with 0.25 inch pieces to create wall-sized murals. After five years of doing this work, I feel confident saying that I have patience with detailed, fiddly tasks and with persisting in projects that seem like they will never be finished, no matter how much work I accomplish. These skills seem like they would translate well to classifying inventory because that work also seems like something where the job is never finished.”

        They may be wrong about inventory classification never being finished because we only get X number of boxes a month and reserve the last week of the month for finishing classification, but they have no way of knowing that. Their cover letter, however, does show that they are thinking about how their seemingly unrelated skills connect to my job and they made a reasonable conclusion, so now I’m inclined to interview them. If they had only applied with the background of mosaic setter and their cover letter simply declared that they are patient, persistent, and detail-oriented without providing evidence, I would not be inclined to pursue an interview because I wouldn’t know how mosaic setting gives someone skills in inventory classification.

      4. Kyrielle*

        Software engineer here! My most recent job hunt, my cover letter described why I was interested in pivoting from the language, environment, and domain that I had been working in, to the one I would be working in. This was true even though I was not applying to only one lang/env/domain combo (but I absolutely had to switch at least domain if I wasn’t going to move halfway across the US). And where my skills were relevant and transferrable.

        Sure, I could just rely on “look how long she’s been programming, she can learn this too” to get thought/said. But it’s nice to show them that I recognize I _am_ changing things up and recognize what I’ll need to learn – and that I’m eager to do so.

  18. WiJ*

    For my first job out of college, my resume (hard copy, 20+ years ago) somehow landed on the desk of a senior vice president. He told me at my first holiday party how strong an impression that cover letter had made, and that it was the reason he passed the resume along to a hiring manager. And with the endorsement of a SVP, I think it moved me to the top of the pile.

    All the cover letter said was that I was a quick learner, and worked well independently, which he knew would be a good fit for this particular hiring manager. So the cover letter may not get you every job, but it’s certainly a differentiator! (and I say that as someone who does a lot of hiring now).

    1. Nethwen*

      Then again, everyone and their cousin say that they are a quick learner and work well independently. What I want to see is the evidence. Statements mean nothing. Give me evidence and I’ll form my own statements.

      Give me an example of how you learned quickly in a previous job and I’ll form the hypothesis that you’re a quick learner. Tell me that you’re a quick learner and I’ll put your application in the reject pile while feeling bad that someone gave you poor cover letter-writing advice.

  19. Generic Name*

    Yes! A good cover letter will connect the dots for the hiring manager as to why you’d be great in the job. I think many people make the mistake of assuming that somehow a resume screener will read the resume and be able to intuit how a handful of jobs in a couple of sortof related fields/jobs creates a cool alchemy in which one is an ideal candidate for a job. It may be obvious to *you* that all of your jobs have had a common thread of related skills that make you perfect for the job you’re applying to, but it’s not necessarily obvious to the person looking at your resume. You’ve got to spell it out.

    1. Toxic Workplace Survivor*

      I love the metaphor of connecting the dots. My line of work is a niche within a generally understood industry (I liked Lana Kane’s example above of a motorcycle mechanic rather than an auto mechanic so I will borrow that).

      When I’m hiring at our basic level, it looks a bit like this: ideally I want an experienced motorcycle mechanic, because that is the job, but I may or may not get that applicant.

      If you are an exceptional auto mechanic with limited motorcycle skills, I can be reasonably confident you can learn what you need on the job. If you have limited experience in repair but it has all been with motorcycles, I can be reasonably sure you can hone your overall mechanic skills as you go without explaining all the basic motorcycle skills.

      But if you are entry level, I know you are green BOTH with the overall concept of mechanic work and with the specialty part of the job, making me less likely to take a chance. So here is where the cover letter can connect the dots: you were in the motorcycle club at school, or you’re just starting out your mechanic career but this particular specialty is your end goal, or you took an extra course in motorcycle shock absorbers last year or you helped restore your cousin’s bike. Any of those things makes you more attractive because it shows you are committed to this, or have experience beyond what your resume says, or that you don’t see my niche as a stepping stone on your way to being an expert in monster trucks. You take motorcycles seriously and that’s key for successful candidates.

      As well as connecting dots, cover letters can provide a chance to address concerns I have that might otherwise mean you get weeded out before the interview stage.

  20. Anonymous mouse*

    Omg going anon for this. As someone who for the first time is on a hiring committee I can agree with this. And it works on the other way too. I had an applicant who I was leaning towards a possible interview but reading the cover letter changed my mind. I don’t want to say anything specific but there were several things in the cover letter that pointed that he didn’t read what the position was for. I think he may have applied or seen a different position we had a few months ago and maybe thought this was the same thing. I would have to ask the hiring committee for that position if this person sounded the same. The biggest was he addressed our director, who is not listed on the advertisement. So he either recycled his cover letter from before or he really searched out website to get the “right” person in his mind, even though it says in the job descriptions on our application system to direct communication to my co worker who is the head of the hiring committee.

  21. anon for this*

    Building on this, I was once an intern for a government agency in the early days of those online application systems that automatically detect keywords.

    One day, I was given a file full of applications for an open position. The automated system had found zero relevant keywords in these applications, so my task (as the lowest-paid and least-necessary person in the office) was to go through all of them and make sure they actually did contain nothing relevant. I wasn’t doing an in-depth screening, basically just “Is this relevant? (y/n)”

    So I went through them, and found most of them contained resumes showing reasonable careers of increasing responsibility that, as far as I could tell, were completely irrelevant to the position.

    A cover letter incorporating some of the keywords that weren’t in the resume would have gotten these applications past the automatic screener, and a cover letter basically stating “this is relevant because…” would have gotten them past me.

  22. Nelalvai*

    Can confirm! When I interviewed for my current job, my now-boss said my cover letter is what got me in, he was very impressed with the content and the quality. It worked great for me as well, I really enjoy the work I’m doing now.

  23. Michelle Smith*

    It is very demoralizing to write cover letter after cover letter after cover letter and to rarely hear back from employers, get ghosted after interviews, and just all around feel like you are spending hours of time just throwing your effort in the garbage. Sure, I still do them. But I don’t blame other people who don’t. That person whose resume you’re putting in the trash because they didn’t write a non-required document could have been a great employee that you just aren’t giving a chance because they don’t know how to play your games.

    Want a cover letter? Ask for it.

    1. Colette*

      The OP isn’t disqualifying people because they don’t write a cover letter. She is disqualifying people who don’t appear qualified, who may have been able to change her mind with a cover letter.

      It’s not about blaming people for not doing it, it’s that the clearer it is that the applicant has the skills needed to do the job, the more likely they are to get an interview – and a cover letter is an opportunity the applicant has to make that connection.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      This isn’t helpful. Writing a good cover letter isn’t a game (see my point below). There’s no secret formula or secret codewords you have to include. Connect your experience to the job requirements. It’s that simple.

      This isn’t a game. This is an opportunity for you to stand out in a very packed field. Quit treating it as a game and you may start to see better results.

      1. Andy*

        It is 100% a game. Unless the position is all about sales and strong written negotiation skills. Cover letter writing boils down exactly to that and to to knowing codes you find on blogs like this. But for most positions, that does not have much to do with what you do daily.

        I never worked on position that would require me to write anything remotely similar to cover letter. Nor in position that have me in similar social role. And I did had to write and communicate a lot at times.

        1. Mental Lentil*

          It is not a game. I have a role to fill. I’m looking for the most qualified person I can find to fill that role. If you are that person, but you don’t, can’t, or won’t show me that you’re qualified, you’re self-eliminating.

          I think comments like this probably come from people who approach a job search by sending out hundreds of resumes without really refining their job search. A targeted job search is much more likely to land you in a good position that you are happy with. Maybe rethink your approach to job hunting and you will get better results.

          1. Hiring Mgr*

            Those last couple of sentences are odd.. It’s fair to comment that not every position requires a cover letter.. I’m in tech sales and in 20+ years have never sent or received one. Maybe a cover sentence at most… It’s a total YMMV thing

        2. Colette*

          It’s really not a game. There are no secret codes; you are a person talking to another person (the hiring manager) about why you’d be good at the job.

          Let’s say you own an ice cream stand. Customer one comes up and says “I’d like two scoops of chocolate on a waffle cone, please”.

          Customer two says “I want ice cream”. You ask what kind, they say “chocolate”. You reach for a cone, they say “no, I want a waffle cone”. You put one scoop on a waffle cone and go to ring it up, they say “I want two scoops”.

          Both customers leave with the same ice cream order. Which one would you rather deal with?

          In the ice cream stand analogy, it’s in your best interests (as a business owner) to serve both of them, but a hiring manager probably has more applicants than they need, so it’s not in their interest to draw the information out of you.

        3. BRR*

          It’s not a game. It’s writing why you’re interested in a role and why you’re qualified for it. If you can’t answer those questions, it’s not a cover letter problem.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If you don’t want to write one, don’t. No one is thinking you’re a terrible person for not. But if you want to increase your chances of getting an interview, a good cover letter is a very effective way to do it. My mail is full of people saying “I started writing cover letters the way you recommend and started getting far more calls for interviews.” That’s why I push it so hard for people who would like to increase their success at job hunting. But it’s up to you whether you want to do it or not.

      Do know, though, that some of your competition is sending in good cover letters, and they’re often getting an advantage over you if you’re not. It’s up to you if you want to do anything with that info.

    4. Generic Name*

      Hiring isn’t a game. I want the best possible person for the opening I have. If I can’ tell you would be great employee based on your resume, I’m not going to take a chance that could end up costing my organization tens of thousands of dollars. You have to tell me how you’d be great at a job, which is where a cover letter comes in. You know you’re great, but I don’t know that.

  24. Mental Lentil*

    This! I always tell people (especially those who think writing a cover letter is playing a game) that this is your chance to connect the dots between the job requirements and the skills and experience you will bring to the job. It’s not a game, and it’s not a con job—it’s a chance for you to point out why you are particularly qualified for the job.

    Of course, this also requires that you’ve read the job description and have made an honest effort to understand it. Researching the company before you start writing that letter will definitely help!

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      It’s particularly great if you are moving in a different direction in your career or if your experience doesn’t check the right boxes on a form but you could easily explain how your work experience correlates for the wanted job.

    2. Generic Name*

      Ha, I literally used the “connecting the dots” phrase in my comment above. I think a lot of people have a hard time putting themselves in a hiring managers shoes. They know that their qualifications blend in a really unique way to hit it out of the park at the job they’re applying to, but honestly, a lot of people lack imagination and only want to interview candidates who have had other versions of the job that they are applying to.

    3. Actual Vampire*

      Yes! As someone who is part of a hiring process right now, I find it really strange that people act like the cover letter is some kind of bonus document that employers require out of pettiness. You try looking at a stack of 50 resumes and see how much sense it makes to you. And yeah, I get that cover letters aren’t the best for a lot of jobs- but they are really helpful for some jobs, and people still aren’t using them. (Even though my company’s job posting said they were required.)

  25. Springtime*

    When I was first starting out professionally, it was during the last gasps of resumes that included an “objective” section at the top. It always seemed ridiculous.

    What is your objective? To get a job! Obviously!

    Why are you applying? I want this job! Obviously!

    But now, much later, having reviewed so many resumes and cover letters that do not draw a clear line between the applicant and the position, I see what the “objective” was meant to do, and I wish more people did it in their cover letters. It shouldn’t take more than a sentence, or even less, but I like applicants to tell me how this position intersects with their life. Are you doing X but wish you were doing Y? Are you ready to move up to X+? Are you looking for a lateral move that lets you change cities? The rest of the cover letter should then, of course, draw lines between the applicants’ experience/skills and what is asked for in the job ad.

    Also, by chance, the various places I’ve worked always provided me many opportunities to be part of interviews for new hires. Seeing that side really has made me better at writing cover letters and interviewing. If you’re a manager, I really recommend this practice as something to help employees with their own professional development.

    1. Lana Kane*

      This is a good point! I started reviewing resumes after the Objective section fell out of usage, but now that I think about it the very few I’ve gotten with one have at least given me a bit more insight.

  26. Turanga Leela*

    I agree with this so much.

    1) Please write a cover letter.

    2) Please use your cover letter to explain why you want the job and why you’d be good at it! I remember hiring for a legal nonprofit and getting a resume and cover letter from a reasonable-looking candidate. He’d gone to a prestigious law school, his grades/journal/whatever were fine… and there was no sign anywhere of why he wanted to do this work. His jobs, coursework, and other activites showed no sign of interest in our field. He could have used the cover letter to explain to us why he was applying–maybe he’d had an epiphany about what he wanted to do with his life! But alas, it was a generic letter with no mention of the work our organization did. It was a competitive pool (and a job where communication skills mattered a lot), and we didn’t interview him.

  27. Unladen European Swallow*

    I work in higher education and cover letters are quite important in hiring decisions. I agree that cover letters are especially important for those who are career changers and are looking to pivot into higher ed. I’m currently reviewing resumes now for a more junior level position. I’ve had so many resumes from people who have little to no relevant experience and without a cover letter, I have no idea how they think their prior experience and skills will translate into the open position. These have gone into my no pile.

    My current university’s central HR office drives me nuts because they won’t let me say in the job description/instructions that a cover letter is a requirement. ARGGHHH. Just as a head’s up for folks: if you’re applying to colleges or universities in the U.S., always always always include a cover letter!!

    1. Amie*

      I understand if you are making a big career swift but in my (and many other) case(s), there weren’t many dots to connect. I graduated in 2019 and applied for jobs in my field. My relevant projects and skills were clearly labeled.

      1. Late Night Lentil*

        Again, though, is it obvious to a recruiter/HR person (who may have no background in your field) how those projects and skills relate to the job posting?

        As has often been pointed out here, the people doing the initial work in bringing in applicants generally have little knowledge of the particular department they are hiring for. A well-written cover letter would/should make it clear how your “relevant” projects and skills fulfill the needs listed in the job posting. You may think there aren’t many dots to connect, but that may not be true on the other side of the table.

        I can not emphasize this enough, based on all the letters I see here from people who say “I was perfect for this position and they didn’t even consider me!” — you have to see this from the other side of the table. You may think that the relevance between your resume and our requirements is obvious, but it may not be to someone who doesn’t know you. You are the product of years of education and training and work, and it is impossible to boil that all of that down effectively into one page. Please take at least one more page to demonstrate this relevance which is obvious to you but is obvious not to a complete stranger.

        As an aside, if I post a job and get 5 resumes, that’s one thing. But if I get 50? or 500? I need to be able to go to my boss and recommend five to ten people for an interview. I will get asked why I am recommending these people, and if the only answer I have is that “well, the relevant projects and skills are clearly labeled” I’m likely to be job searching myself soon.

  28. WendyRoo*

    I don’t know why writing cover letters is so difficult for me, but honestly it’s the worst part of filling out an application. Any tips to get past the writers block?

    1. ecnaseener*

      A tip I’ve seen is to explain to a friend why you’d be good at the job & why you want it, and then write that down. You can always edit the wording after, but to get a handle on the content it helps to ditch the “formal letter” mindset.

      1. Nanani*

        Alternatively, flip it around and describe a friend who has the same background and skills as you. You want to help your friend get a job right? (The friend is you but if you trick your brain into being nice about -someone else- it can get the writing flowing)

    2. Colette*

      Alison has suggested in the past to think about what you’d say to a friend about why you would be good at the job, and then write it down.

    3. Mental Lentil*

      Go through the job description point by point, and figure out which points in your resume match those points. You can fill a paragraph that way easily.

      Also, be sure to talk about why you are interested in this job. Show us that you’ve done some research on our company. “I’m interested in working with your company because of…” There’s a lot of online criticism of cover letter online (thank you, Reddit), and yes, I know working a job is preferable to living under a tree in the woods and foraging for berries and grubs. I get it—we all have bills to pay and I’m a big fan of climate control. But surely something in our job posting made this job stand out enough that you decided to take the time to apply.

  29. ecnaseener*

    Absolutely. I’ve been on a few hiring panels lately (not the hiring manager myself) for positions that are pretty rare – like only a very specific type of institution has any, and generally only a few per institution. Point being we don’t get experienced llama groomers applying most of the time, just people with various tangential connections to zoology or hairstyling.

    And I think our external recruiters don’t ask for cover letters – at least we never get them anymore – and it makes things SO hard! We can’t tell who’s genuinely interested in llama grooming and who’s just bombing everything to do with zoology. (Plus the phone screen is done by the recruiters and we’re not allowed to do our own -_- we have to follow the process and pick the interviews based on just the resume and the recruiter’s often-crappy notes on the phone screen)

  30. MuchAdoAboutAnon*

    THIS! So much this! I often have many, many questions that aren’t answered in a resume that could be answered in a simple cover letter. Please submit one and please submit one that is specific to the job you are currently applying for!

  31. Anon for this*

    I need to agree with the people whose experience in the real world doesn’t match up with posts on here.
    When I was hiring, I found that cover letters were much more likely to have me exclude someone than encourage me to include someone in the interview list. The reasons ranged from totally generic cover letters to being arrogant or obviously embellishing their experience.
    I needed people with specific education and experience. So I would start with the resumes as my first sort and then use the cover letters to get an idea of personality. I had really good success with this.
    But, if a resume didn’t list the requirements for the position, it wouldn’t matter how amazing the cover letter was. They weren’t getting the job.

    1. Lana Kane*

      This is true. I’ve seen cover letters that might as well have read “INSERT NAME HERE”!

      I think the assumption in this post is that it’s a decent cover letter that actually expands on things.

    2. Actual Vampire*

      Right I mean… I think what you’re saying is a point in favor of what the LW is saying. A cover letter isn’t just a box you check off. It’s not some silly requirement that doesn’t really matter. It’s a substantive part of the process that can be done well or poorly, just like an interview could be done well or poorly.

      1. Anoni*

        You can rationalize it, but it’s a way industries gatekeep people out of their fields. Even done well, it’s still a hoop. I am someone whose ability to teach a young adult how to right a good cover letter can be the difference between them getting a job or not and I find them onerous and stressful.

        1. Simply the best*

          By this logic interviews, resumes, and reference calls are also ways to gate keep people out of industries.

  32. Andy*

    I think that LW should clearly state on the online app that cover letters are expected and not including one is disadvantage. Dont make things look optional if they are not. And here it sounds like lack of cover letter is sever disadvantage.

    1. Lana Kane*

      I think that the underlying cause of confusion is that for some people resumeandcoverletter are essentially one word. And for other people, it’s not. So you may have someone in the former camp who just doesn’t get why people aren’t writing them because “everyone knows and I shouldn’t have to spell it out”. Differing modalities across generations or industries can be a cause of this.

      I’m not rigid about cover letters at all, but I do definitely question why someone wouldn’t take a moment to explain why their work history is, say, in banking and they are applying for medical research. At some point that candidate will receive enough rejections that not putting 2 and 2 together would, to me, be very strange.

    2. ecnaseener*

      At least in this case, the advantage of the cover letter was explaining things that aren’t clear from the resume. Someone whose resume clearly demonstrated an excellent fit wouldn’t necessarily be at a disadvantage. (And the LW said in most cases they interviewed some people without cover letters.)

      So I guess people think there’s no point in requiring one when it *should* be a judgment call of whether your candidacy needs explanation. But I would agree that postings should encourage cover letters.

      1. More Nuanced Than That*

        Right. If you’re a SQL developer with five years experience and the job ad is for a SQL developer with at least five years of experience, the cover letter may or may not put you over the edge for an interview, or at least, may not be as much of a factor. But if you’ve been a blackjack dealer in a casino for five years and you’re applying for a marketing job, it’s unlikely you’ll get an interview without in some way connecting those dots.

  33. hi*

    I attribute a lot of my success finding internships to good cover letter writing. Given that I had virtually no experience to begin with, being able to describe my skills & interest in the company in my cover letter was very helpful in landing interviews. Alison’s tips have been so useful!

  34. Anoni*

    I’d like to hear from people who didn’t have the privilege of learning how to write a good cover letter and how that was used to gatekeep, or how they navigated that to learn how to write a good cover letter. I struggle with the cover letter thing because it is a skill I teach, but I also know it doesn’t necessarily indicate the kind of employee my student will be. No matter how many anecdotes we might all have, the research out there indicates people who had more privilege will be better at producing the thing that will get them better employment.

    1. Nethwen*

      I didn’t know what a cover letter was when I started looking for jobs. All I knew was that one was expected and I only knew that because I specifically asked someone about the weirdness of turning in a resume without any context. That person didn’t teach me to write CLs, though.

      My first CLs were in the useless to terrible territory. In fact, I’m pretty sure someone mentioned one of mine in a comment on this site as a reference for what not to do. They kept everything anonymous, but it was still clearly what I had done, so if it wasn’t mine, someone else did the same embarrassing thing.

      I learned from this site how to write better cover letters and Alison even privately gave me feedback on one I sent her (I don’t think she does that any more). While I’ve never received direct feedback from employers, I have consistently received interview invitations after submitting applications to jobs for which I have no obvious related experiences, except for a few openings that I knew were long-shots (e.g. they want someone to research patent law and I have no research experience, never mind in law research, but I met all other requirements).

    2. Hiring Mgr*

      Alison did mention privilege as a factor in the follow up/thank you note letter the other day.. I suppose cover letters could be similar..

    3. Pocket Mouse*

      I wasn’t taught to write cover letters or given much insight into getting and being in jobs (but have a lot of privilege in other ways). I’m sure the lack of handed-down knowledge impeded my job searches and, to some extent, how well I was able to operate in a work environment. My cover letters improved once I knew what field I wanted to be in, what general role in that field I wanted to hold, and had a bit of relevant experience. At that point, my enthusiasm for a position that was an excellent fit and careful tailoring to the job description did the trick.

      To be honest, I’d love to see what gender, racial, and perhaps class privilege (or lack thereof) is conveyed by the names of people getting hired without cover letters in industries where they might reasonably be expected.

      1. Anoni*

        I’d like to see that, too. There are a lot of things people take for granted on this site that aren’t necessarily universal truths. That lack of flexibility in thinking means a lot of qualified, talented people get passed over for opportunities.

    4. Alternative Person*

      I get the frustration. I did a lot of firsts in my family, and I’m not sure I would have made it as far as I have without some supportive teachers who knew what kind of wording was needed and good timing at the university support centre as the person I talked to that day was an intern who was able to use my ‘case’ (applying to a competitive programme) as part of her own work.

      I think the best thing we can do is pay it forward where we can. I teach now, and my particular specialisms command high fees (at least where my main job is). When I do external programmes, I give those students access to additional support at low costs- for example I trade personalised feedback for a chocolate bar, I have concession rates for private tuition, I’ll review cover letters for free (or the cost of a drink/chocolate bar). I’ll send people here to get advice.

  35. Elle Woods*

    I applied for a job at a large health care company several years ago. A significant portion of the position entailed taking complex info and simplifying it to make it understandable to the general population. Because of my varied background, it wouldn’t necessarily be clear to someone why or how I was qualified for the role. I wrote a killer cover letter and had multiple interviews; the internal recruiter and hiring manager both told me that it was my cover letter that pushed me to the top of the pile.

  36. Pickles*

    If you are applying for a federal job, the hiring official may never see your cover letter unless you PDF it in the same file as your resume.

    And yes, you can upload it separately. But don’t bother.

    I cannot emphasize this enough. In the federal USA Jobs application system, the cover letter still may not make it through to the hiring official unless you PDF it within the same file as your resume.

  37. Rachel*

    If you think the cover letters are such an important component, you need to require them.

    1. Late Night Lentil*

      Oh, c’mon. If the job posting doesn’t say that a cover letter is required, why would you not submit one, just to give yourself an edge?

      Also, if you’ve been here for any length of time, you’d know that plenty of job postings do require them, but few applicants actually submit one. If you’re going to take the lazy route when applying for a job, why should I interview you? Why should I hire you? I don’t need employees who are superhuman, but I do need employees who aren’t lazy. Not even jumping over a very low hurdle says a lot about prospective candidates.

      1. Monty & Millie's Mom*

        I understand what you’re saying, but the flip side of that is that we have read here more than once that people who do not follow the directions in the job posting they are responding to are not even considered – the hiring person wants to know that the applicant can follow directions. So – I mean, if you don’t know the norms, or aren’t from the US, or are from a background that hasn’t done this type of job, that’s not fair to them. Not everyone’s experience is yours – to you, it makes no sense NOT to include a cover letter, but I can think of multiple reasons why I wouldn’t include one, if it didn’t explicitly say to do so in the posting.

  38. FrivYeti*

    I remember when I was finishing my post-grad certificate, and we had a section on applying for jobs. Two hiring managers for major companies in our field came in to give advice, and someone asked about cover letters.

    The first manager said that cover letters weren’t that important and that you should focus on making your resume as clear as possible, and that he usually didn’t even bother to read cover letters until he’d chosen who he wanted to interview, at which point he’d glance over them for interview notes. The second manager immediately laughed and said that she only read the cover letters, and didn’t look at resumes until she’d used the cover letters to winnow the pool down.

    It was an illuminating moment, but maybe not the most inspirational!

  39. Liz*

    I think this is helpful to know. I find the job searching process extremely opaque, and never really understood what a cover letter was supposed to do. For years, I thought a covering letter was just the letter/email you attached your CV to that said “I’m applying for this job, here is my CV” but in more flowery language. I was very confused when I applied for a PhD and the University emailed me to say that they really wanted to consider me, but needed me to add a covering letter. I thought the email I sent was it! (A friend of mine had to explain what an academic covering letter was, so I did my best to cobble one together. I didn’t get accepted but it was nice that they were interested enough to offer the chance.)

    I think I struggle with the idea of self promotion because, when I’m applying, I feel like I know so little about the job that’s on offer. Job titles and descriptions rarely give the specifics of the day to day tasks, so I can’t always tell how they might match up to my experience. It’s sort of like squinting through a letterbox and trying to identify whether the house you’re looking at would be right for you and your family. I can’t really begin to tell an employer why I’d be a good fit for a job because, well, I don’t know if I am! It feels far more appropriate to just lay my experience on the table and let them decide if it’s relevant because they know the job better than me.

    But I’m working on this. I’m going to be searching again next year, so I’ll be trying out some of these tips.

    1. Nethwen*

      From my perspective, a cover letter isn’t about the applicant telling me why they’d be a good fit for the job, because, as you pointed out, the applicant has no way of knowing. I prefer applicants to use the CL to show that they’ve thought about what the job ad is asking for and how their experience might provide them the skills to do that.

      In your letterbox and house analogy, for me a CL is the applicant’s chance to say, “I see that this house has stairs and a fireplace. I have experience vacuuming hard-to-reach areas and in keeping small children away from enticing, but dangerous, objects. These seem like skills that could be useful in a house with stairs and a fireplace.”

      If the reality is that the stairs are self-vacuuming and that there is a security wall that can hide the fireplace, I don’t expect the applicant to know that, but their CL has shown me that they are thinking about what might be needed. This is makes the applicant more attractive than someone who says, “I see that this house has stairs. I have used stairs before. Therefore, I’d be great at this job.”

      In the first example, the applicant is thinking about what it means to have stairs in a house. In the second, the applicant is drawing conclusions from an observation, but not providing any supporting evidence or context for their conclusion. Yes, they have used stairs, but in what way? What was the result of how they used them? Context and supporting evidence is more convincing than simple statements. The resume combined with a CL can provide this context and evidence.

  40. Guava*

    Has anyone completed a medical prescreening form for employment? I am in the US and this is for a part time, non-armed, federal position.
    I am not required to release my medical records and disclosure is also voluntary…
    I’ve disclosed the meds I’m allergic to but I really don’t want to disclose X. X is a benign, congenital thing I have that has not impacted my 30+ years on earth. I’ve read over the disqualifying conditions (and it’s nearly everything under the sun) and X still shouldn’t disqualify me, but I feel they want any reason to cut you. Since this is part time, the position I am applying for does not come with the free health care given to full time employees.
    I am strongly leaning towards listing it and if they don’t want to hire me because of it, then it isn’t meant to be. I’ve already stress cried over this. It’s like “don’t tell, and we won’t ask” but could it bite me in the butt later? I don’t want to omit the truth, but do they really want to know about X?

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