Do You Still Need to Write a Cover Letter to Land Your Next Job?

Do You Still Need to Write a Cover Letter to Land Your Next Job?
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Veterans often ask whether cover letters are still relevant in the job application process. Like most topics in transition, there are a variety of viewpoints. This Wall Street Journal article points out a disconnect – job seekers say the letters are too time-consuming and useless in an age of keyword-hunting algorithms, while hiring managers insist a well-crafted letter remains a great way to grab their attention.


Here are a few points to consider as you decide whether to include a cover letter with your next job application, even if it is not required!  


An Opportunity to Stand Out

It appears some (younger) job seekers are tired of writing the cover letter – they may find it difficult or time-consuming, feel it is outdated, or simply not want to do it. Put simply (and ironically), it’s just too much work to apply for a job.


If this is the going trend for the younger workforce, writing a cover letter sounds like a no-brainer/easy win to stand out from the masses who choose not to bother. In addition to explaining why you are a fit for the role, it demonstrates your work ethic and shows you are willing to go the extra mile when others take the easy way out.


Make It Count

Should you choose to write a cover letter, ensure it is tailored to the position you want. A generic check-the-block letter could be almost as bad as no letter at all.


Outline why you are a good fit for the role. Connect the dots for the recruiter to set the stage for their initial résumé review, which lasts seven to 11 seconds – yes, seconds, not minutes! As interesting and impressive as your résumé might be, recruiters do not have time to read it in any detail. The cover letter is a nice way to “speak” directly to the reader in a more conversational, yet professional, manner than bullets on a résumé.


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Do Your Homework

Reach out to your network before committing to a cover letter. While some recruiters may like to read one as a way to measure an applicant’s attention to detail, the above Wall Street Journal notes some significant exceptions – some in the tech industry, for instance, are pushing back on the cover letter, and candidates who submit one could appear to be “out of touch.”


It’s a choice you will have to make on a case-by-case basis – and it’s another reason to know everything you can about the position and the employer before firing off your application.


Consider the Data

While trends may suggest the cover letter is a thing of the past, 83% of 200 hiring managers and recruiters surveyed by Resume Lab said the cover letter was important in deciding who to hire – especially if the candidate is making a career pivot or has a gap in employment. Additionally, nearly 75% indicated they expected a cover letter even if it was not asked for!


To further underscore the letter as an easy way to stand out from your peers, the same survey indicated only 38% of candidates submit a cover letter when required.


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Decide for the Right Reasons

Whether you love or hate writing cover letters isn’t the point – base your decision on whether the letter gives you an edge in landing your dream role. It might mean some extra time, revisions, and careful editing, but if putting in the work gives you a better chance at landing the position, I would start writing. How about you? 


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About the Author

Cmdr. Erin Cardinal, USN (Ret), ACC, CPC
Cmdr. Erin Cardinal, USN (Ret), ACC, CPC

Cardinal is MOAA's Program Director, Transition Services & Family Programs. She is a Certified Professional Coach (CPC) and has extensive experience in coaching servicemembers through their transition from active duty to the civilian sector.