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Knowing When to Use a Cover Letter in Today’s Job Market

Today, the use of cover letters remains a component of the job application process. Including a customized cover letter in addition to your resume can help your application stand out to hiring personnel and give you a leg-up on other candidates.

Dahl Consulting (DAHL) remains up-to-date on the latest hiring trends to provide job seekers with helpful insights to thrive in a dynamic job market. In this blog, discover the instances when a cover letter is a benefit and learn valuable tips for crafting an effective one.

The Importance of Cover Letters

In today’s competitive job market, cover letters play a role in showcasing your qualifications and setting yourself apart from other applicants. While resumes provide a summary of your skills and experience, cover letters allow you to personalize your application and demonstrate your passion for the position.

A cover letter provides an opportunity for you to expand on relevant experiences, highlight key accomplishments, and explain any gaps in your employment history. It serves as a persuasive tool to convince employers that you are the ideal candidate for the role. Jamie Rebischke, VP of Talent at Dahl Consulting, shared that cover letters “can also be a way to express your communication skills and demonstrate your strong understanding of the position.”

Many companies still consider cover letters as a screening tool to assess an applicant’s attention to detail, communication skills, and overall fit for the organization. In fact, according to a of 625 hiring managers across the US, 94% of them agreed that cover letters are influential when deciding who to interview. Plus, the large majority of those surveyed stated that they definitely read cover letters. This study tells us it is a good idea to invest time and effort into crafting a compelling cover letter.

When to Include a Cover Letter in Your Job Application

While cover letters are generally expected for many job applications, there are specific instances when including one becomes particularly crucial.  The following five scenarios are when you should include a cover letter with your application.

  1. When the job posting explicitly requests a cover letter: Some employers specify that applicants must submit a cover letter along with their resume. Failing to include one in this case can result in your application being disregarded. Even when cover letters are “optional,” 72% of recruiters still expect a cover letter to be included, and 77% of recruiters give preference to candidates who submit one. It is always best to err on the side of caution by including a cover letter if you are not sure.
  2. When you want to showcase your qualifications in more detail: If you have relevant experiences or accomplishments that are not adequately conveyed in your resume, a cover letter allows you to provide additional context and highlight your suitability for the position.
  3. When you are changing careers or industries: A cover letter can help bridge the gap between your previous experience and the requirements of the new role. It allows you to explain your transferable skills and demonstrate your enthusiasm for making a career transition.
  4. When you have been referred to a position: If you’ve been referred to a position, it can be helpful to send your cover letter and resume directly to the person who referred you so that they can send it to the proper hiring personnel.
  5. When applying for senior-level positions: Executives and high-level professionals often submit cover letters to emphasize their leadership abilities, strategic thinking, and vision for the company. A well-crafted cover letter can make a strong impression and increase your chances of landing an interview.

In general, it is recommended to include a cover letter unless the job posting explicitly states otherwise. It is always better to err on the side of caution and provide additional information to support your application.

Tips for Writing a Cover Letter That Stands Out

To make your cover letter stand out and capture the attention of hiring managers, consider the following tips:

  • Tailor your cover letter to each job application: Avoid using a generic template and take the time to customize your cover letter for each position. Highlight specific qualifications, experiences, or skills that align with the job requirements. Rebischke weighed in, stating that “Cover Letters work best when tailoring them to a specific role where you can highlight how your background and experiences will not only fit the role but enhance it as well.” When tailoring a cover letter, it is also important to include the name of the hiring manager if you know it. Be sure to address them directly.
  • Use a professional and engaging tone: Your cover letter should be written in a professional yet personable tone. Avoid using excessive jargon or overly formal language. Instead, focus on expressing your enthusiasm and passion for the role.
  • Keep it concise and focused: Hiring managers often receive numerous applications, so it is important to keep your cover letter concise and to the point. A short cover letter is preferred; aim for a length of around three to four paragraphs, or about 400 words, and ensure that each paragraph adds value to your application.
  • Showcase your achievements and unique selling points: Use your cover letter to highlight your most relevant achievements and unique selling points. Provide specific examples of how your skills and experiences have contributed to previous successes.
  • Avoid repeating information from your resume: Your cover letter should complement your resume, not duplicate it. Avoid simply restating the information already provided in your resume. Instead, use the cover letter to provide additional context and highlight relevant experiences.
  • Don’t focus too much on yourself: While it is important to showcase your qualifications, remember to also demonstrate your understanding of the company you’re applying to and the value you can bring to the organization. Tailor your cover letter to address the employer’s needs and emphasize how you can contribute to their success.
  • Proofread and edit: Last, but certainly not least, before submitting your cover letter, carefully proofread it for any grammatical or spelling errors. Ensure that the letter is well-structured and flows smoothly. If utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) tools for your cover letter, this step is especially important. Make sure to edit for authenticity and accuracy. Consider asking a trusted friend or mentor to review it as well.

By following these tips, you will successfully write a cover letter that effectively showcases your qualifications and increases your chances of landing an interview.

Utilizing Cover Letters to Showcase Your Skills and Experience

Cover letters provide an excellent opportunity to showcase your skills and experience in a more comprehensive and personalized way compared to your resume. To effectively utilize cover letters, it is important to focus on relevant accomplishments that may not be included on your resume. Cover letters provide an opportunity to demonstrate your qualifications through specific examples of successful projects or challenges you have overcome. Additionally, this provides an opportunity for you to explicitly connect your skills to the job requirements, which can help you to stand out to the hiring manager.

In addition to accomplishments, cover letters can help you to explain career transitions or employment gaps directly. By explaining the reasons for the transitions or gaps and emphasizing the valuable skills and experiences you gained during those periods, you can help to avoid any confusion up front.

Lastly, a cover letter is an excellent way to demonstrate your passion and enthusiasm for the company and position to which you are applying. As mentioned, it is important to not only expand on your skills and accomplishments but also to share why you are excited about the opportunity and how your skills align with the organization’s goals and values. This can help hiring personnel understand more about how your background will make a great fit, plus, it helps to reiterate why you applied to work for their organization.

By effectively utilizing cover letters, you can provide a more comprehensive picture of your skills and experiences, increasing your chances of impressing potential employers and securing job interviews.

DAHL provides jobseeker tips and advice on a wide variety of topics, including cover letters. Learn more in our blog, or get connected with one of our employment experts today!