A man is sitting at a wooden desk, he is drafting out a cover letter for a job application in his note book.

Should you send a cover letter with your job application?

Hannah Mason • Nov 18, 2021
Blog

Should you send a cover letter with your job application?

Hannah Mason • Nov 18, 2021

The arguments against sending a cover letter go something like this:

“Recruiters don’t read cover letters anymore, it seems like a waste of time, especially as it’s expected I write a tailored one for each role. Surely my CV or resume gives the recruiter enough information for them to decide if I have the right experience for the role?”

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this logic is completely wrong. There is some truth in it, but it’s important to understand exactly what the purpose of a cover letter is so that you can decide if it’s worth you making the extra effort to send one.

Traditionally, a cover letter would be physically attached to the front of a CV or resume and directly presented to the hiring company, meaning all cover letters would automatically be seen by the person receiving them, before the CV was even read. And, because companies used to receive far fewer applications, each application would be reviewed more thoroughly.

Fast forward a few decades and the average role attracts hundreds or thousands of applications. These either land in a recruiter’s inbox or into an Applicant Tracking System. The cover letter is typically included as an additional attachment and the person sorting through the applications must decide whether to open that attachment and view its contents. Given that most initial determinations are made in 7 seconds, you can imagine that opening a cover letter would add a significant amount of time to this process.

Therefore, most recruiters will read the CV first and then decide whether to read the cover letter. The cover letter’s purpose has essentially changed.

Think of it like this:

The cover letter is no longer an introduction to your CV or application. It is now your final chance to persuade an undecided recruiter that they should shortlist you for the role.

Cover letters don’t get read when a recruiter can clearly see from your CV that you are not a good fit. They also don’t make much difference if a recruiter has already decided to shortlist you based on your CV.

But, they can truly make or break an application in those instances where you are almost there, but not quite.

Wouldn’t you want to do everything you could to push your application over the edge from a ‘no’ to a ‘yes’?

Taking the time to write a good cover letter can do just that. But, it’s important that you keep that aim in mind and make the cover letter worth it. It needs to serve that purpose. It can’t just be a generic letter to introduce yourself, it needs to be a convincing sales pitch.

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Here’s how you do it.

Read the job description

To make a cover letter worth it, it needs to be tailored to the role. It needs to specifically address the requirements of the role and the position’s pain points. You therefore need to read the job description carefully and make note of the key aspects of the role and what the company is looking for.

Make it personal

Cover letters should not be addressed ‘To whom it may concern’ or ‘Dear Sirs’. This immediately indicates to the reader that what follows is a generic document that isn’t going to tell them anything about the person's fit for the specific role they are hiring for.

Where possible the letter should be addressed to an individual. If you can’t find the name of the individual then address it ‘To the hiring team of ….’, including the company name to show this is a personalised letter.

Get to the point

Remember this isn’t a generic introduction or letter of interest. This is your final pitch. Grab the reader’s attention by getting straight to the point and telling them what sets you apart from other candidates. Aim to be unique and avoid clichés.

Address the specifics of the role

I often include a subheading titled ‘why me?’ or ‘what I’ll bring to the role’. Under that I’ll include 3 or 4 bullet points that are easy for the reader to skim through and that directly address why the person is a fit for the position.

Where possible you should seek to back up any claims with key metrics that show demonstrable value. Here’s an example:

Why me?

▶︎ Consistent Top Biller – Finished in the top 3 (out of 30) for the past 4 quarters, generating over £200K in revenue YTD, achieving an average of 3 placements per month.

▶︎ Experienced in the Legal Market – Recruited for both the in-house and private practice market, with strong client relationships at leading magic circle firms and FTSE 100 businesses.

▶︎ Trusted by Candidates – One third of the candidates I placed this year were referred to me. I have spent years cultivating a strong reputation in this market as a transparent and reliable recruitment partner.

Show that you have genuine interest in the role or company

Companies want to hire people that they believe are enthusiastic to work for them. I often include a further subheading titled ‘Why (company name)’. Here, I’ll outline the specific reasons why the person has a passion to work in that role or for that company. If possible, you should seek to include a story here that is personalised to you. Recruiters can see through generic statements that are copy and pasted from their website or could be written about any organisation. If you have a personal anecdote that you can share, then this will help you stand out.

Make it easy to read

Recruiters will be skimming your cover letter for key information. It shouldn’t be paragraphs upon paragraphs of dense information. Instead, break it up with clear headings, bullet points and bold text. If possible, match the style of your document to your CV in order to tie the two documents together.

I’ve made a new video which shows you step by step how to make an interview-winning cover letter.

I also have CV and Cover Letter templates that will help you create an interview-winning cover letter in no time - click here.