Job applications - do I really need to send a covering letter?

covering letter

It is commonplace, particularly in the private sector, for employers to request a ‘CV and covering letter’ when applying for jobs, even if the application system is electronic. And yet, as most people know (particularly those who are involved in recruitment), covering letters are often not even read. Perhaps the document is never even opened. All this begs the question “do I really need to send one?” Well regardless of how futile they may seem, I will argue that sending a covering letter is always a good idea, for the following reasons:

  1. Quite simply, if an employer has asked for one, then they expect to see one. By not sending one you are not following the basic instructions of their recruitment campaign and this in itself is a good enough reason for some recruiters not to consider your application further.

  2. You may be applying to a company that does actually read covering letters and in some way uses them as part of their decision making process. Not sending one, therefore, is a risk not worth taking.

  3. A covering letter can be a really good place to give information that doesn’t fit in to the standard format of a CV. Perhaps you are a career changer and need to explain why you are seeking a new career and what you can offer it. Perhaps you currently live in a different part of the country but are relocating soon to near where the company is based and you don’t want them to be put off by your current location.

  4. A covering letter can be a good place to convey an element of your personality - CVs rarely allow for this as they are, by nature, formal and factual documents. So expressing your enthusiasm and determination, for example, can be more easily done in your covering letter.

  5. If you are applying speculatively, a covering letter is needed in order to explain the type of position you are looking for particularly if it is a large organisation which lots of roles on offer - give them an idea of where you see yourself fitting in.

  6. If you are applying through ‘word of mouth’ and have been recommended by someone already in the company, a covering letter allows you to name this person (with their permission, of course) in a way that a CV doesn’t. After all, it is so often about ‘who you know’.

So yes, they may seem like a bit of a waste of time and often they are. But don’t chance it. Covering letters do not take long to write. Most can be adapted from a standard template quite easily, remembering, of course, to tailor it to the requirements of the specific job opportunity. But do remember that they shouldn’t contain any information that isn’t (but could be) in your CV. Rather, they should supplement your CV by summarising the skills that you can offer.