When is it necessary to write a cover letter?
April 25, 2011 1:06 PM   Subscribe

When is it necessary to write a cover letter?

Here, I'm talking about jobs that have been posted to Craigslist or the "careers" section of a company's website. In some cases, they ask for a cover letter, so obviously I should send them a cover letter. But what about cases where they don't ask for a cover letter? Is it still necessary to send one?

Typically -- unless the company has some kind of HR tool that you submit your resume to directly -- you'll send in your resume attached to an email. I use this email as an opportunity to introduce myself, talk about why I'm interested in the job, etc. Since I'm putting that stuff into my email, is it still necessary to send a cover letter? And if it is necessary, does the content of my cover letter need to be different than the content of my email?

I'm applying for jobs as a senior software engineer on the west coast, if that makes any difference.
posted by Sloop John B to Work & Money (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
When they ask... just kidding. Its good practice to always include a cover letter. Its a method of pulling strengths out of your resume for the position as well as address your desire as to why you are fit for the job.
posted by handbanana at 1:11 PM on April 25, 2011

Your e-mail is your cover letter, unless they specifically ask for you to attach a cover letter.
posted by grouse at 1:13 PM on April 25, 2011 [8 favorites]

echoing grouse here, the e-mail is your cover letter unless they specify one needing to be attached.
posted by deezil at 1:16 PM on April 25, 2011

I agree with grouse and deezil. Write the email as if it were a cover letter, because it pretty much is. After all, you need to put something in the email. If they don't ask for a cover letter, writing a brief email and then attaching a lengthier cover letter along with the resume is just too unwieldy.
posted by John Cohen at 1:22 PM on April 25, 2011

Obviously, every field is different. I am getting ready to hire 2 new full-time people next week. I had more than 50 qualified applicants. All 5 of the folks I am interviewing included a separate cover letter. In each case, it was something in the cover letter that made them stand out and got them the interview.
posted by hworth at 1:30 PM on April 25, 2011

Always write a full and proper cover letter. If applying via email, the body of the email should be the text of the cover letter. And, you should also attach the cover letter as the first page of your attached resume. It allows the recruiter to forward your attachment to someone else, and ensures that person knows all about you and your candidacy, even if they don't get your original email.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 1:33 PM on April 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

I try to keep my cover letter (email) very short - just one paragraph highlighting something about myself that will make the reader want to read my resume and learn more. Basically, the one or two "wow" factors I have that make me exceptionally qualified for the job. I haven't attached a separate cover letter in this millennium. These are for tech sales jobs, I would think software engineering jobs would work similarly.
posted by COD at 1:36 PM on April 25, 2011

I work at a community college and generally serve on at least one or two search teams for various positions a year, sometimes having to review 30 to 50 cover letters/resumes per search. The cover letter, whether it is separate or part of your email, is basically your only chance to show your personality on paper when applying for a job. Resumes are so painfully dry to read, and it's the people who write good cover letters who get me to look more closely to their resumes. Always write a cover letter.
posted by iceprincess324 at 2:02 PM on April 25, 2011

@hworth, @ iceprincess324: Not to hijack this thread, but what specific things about a cover letter would make you want to consider that candidate over others? Any samples out there that can help us?

I am also wondering if a cover letter as the first page of a resume, as suggested above, is good or only serve to confuse the automated resume database systems out there?
posted by theobserver at 2:47 PM on April 25, 2011

Agree that your email is your cover letter.

what specific things about a cover letter would make you want to consider that candidate over others?

Show me that you've done your homework, have read the job posting, have looked into the organization, have thought about how your skills and can write coherently. Cover letters that have the wrong title or department and spell my name wrong (!) even though all of that is provided to you in the job posting? Are not getting an interview. It's also a professional writing sample, so it must be grammaticality perfect.
posted by rhapsodie at 2:59 PM on April 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Always include a cover letter! Always! Do it as a separate attached document, with a sort of short intro version of it as your email (or just a copy of the same text, if you like). Your resume is a list of facts about you, but your cover letter is your chance to argue why those facts make you appropriate for the job, and to bring to their attention any particularly relevant bits or things that don't go on a resume. Why waste a commonly accepted opportunity to advocate for yourself?
posted by Eshkol at 3:44 PM on April 25, 2011

A cover letter never hurts - UNLESS:

1. It is too long and rambles.

2. Has typos.

3. Shows that you forgot to do a Find/Replace All, mentioning another firm that you're interested in.

I've seen all 3.
posted by veryblue1 at 3:52 PM on April 25, 2011

A cover letter is a huge advantage, always, at every level -- unless it reveals that you're a bad writer and/or not interested enough to articulate reasons why your resume is a good match to the position you're seeking.

I've been on about half a dozen hiring committees since the beginning of the recession, and I am almost certain that I haven't read an application that didn't include a cover letter. I'm pretty sure that whoever runs jobs@myorganization.org has been told not to waste our time forwarding applications that lack a letter.

The e-mail is the letter? Yes, that can work, but what if the overworked assistant running jobs@myorganization.org has been told to organize all application materials electronically and she doesn't know how/doesn't bother to turn your e-mail into a pdf for you? What if she's been told to print everything out, but her e-mail program wrecks your paragraphing or spreads your one-page message across four pages of broken web formatting?

Write a letter, write a resume. Attach the two documents to the shortest e-mail you can get away with: "Greetings: Attached are my cover letter and resume responding to your Position X, which I found yesterday on Craigslist. I'm excited to be considered for the position and hope to hear from you soon." If you give them nothing to read except your excellent letter and your fine resume, you're going to get read!
posted by FLAG (BASTARD WATER.) (Acorus Adulterinus.) at 4:36 PM on April 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

I get loads of resumes and I often have no idea why they've sent them. Responding to a specific posting? Interested in particular area of the organization? Cold call? A cover letter gives me a clue, and will help get your resume into the pile.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 4:59 PM on April 25, 2011

I always like cover letters when I read resumes. Good ones give you a chance to show you know something about the company, say why you are interested in the position, say how your skills align with the position, or highlight any other important facts that might get lost in a resume. If the reviewer has dozens (or hundreds) or resumes where qualified applicants all list the same core skills a short cover letter that helps to connect the dots between your skills and experience and the desired skills in the job posting can help move you to the pile that gets more attention.
posted by nalyd at 9:45 PM on April 25, 2011

I think the issue here is 2 different questions: 1) when do I write a cover letter, and 2) does it go in the email body or as a separate attached page?

1) Always always always. If they don't mention it in the posting it's because they assume it's the normal way of doing business, which it is. The only time you wouldn't write a cover letter is if the ad specifically requests that you do not. And I've never seen it, but it could happen.

2) When I worked in HR, I always mocked the people who sent in an attached sheet cover letter because I felt like they didn't understand how email worked, but it didn't seem to make any differences to my bosses either way (and I was just a prescreener, I didn't have any involvement in the hiring process).

I personally always just put it in the email body, but YMMV being as I haven't been able to get a callback in months, so maybe I'm doing it wrong?
posted by dust.wind.dude at 8:51 AM on April 26, 2011

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