To include a cover letter or not — that is the question. And for applicants who don’t love writing, it can feel particularly fraught. To tackle the challenge head-on, you first need to figure out whether you need a cover letter; once you’ve determined that you do, you can move on to actually writing it.
Many employers who require cover letters are upfront about that expectation, and you might as well not even apply without a cover letter. Other employers might request cover letters for certain roles that are heavy on the writing responsibilities, but not for other jobs.
For those postings that don’t mention cover letters at all, you might be tempted to skip this step and rush to submit your application. But that might mean giving up a chance to introduce yourself to your potential employer at a deeper level than your résumé can offer.
Cover letters are especially useful for candidates with unusual backgrounds — that is, those whose career trajectories don’t fit the norm. This is an opportunity to explain why, despite a nonstandard path, this job makes sense for you both now and within the context of your long-term professional goals.
Answer any obvious questions that might come up or give the employer pause, such as gaps in employment or a missing degree or credential. Applicants who would be working in their second or third language might also use a cover letter to demonstrate their proficiency.
Even those with typical career histories can enhance their applications with a cover letter, which provides a space to express passion and personality. This does mean striking a balance — your cover letter should showcase your voice without relying on gimmicks and cliches.
If you can find a different way to say what you mean, and tailor it to you and the position you want, you may have a better shot at catching and keeping the reader’s attention — and moving on to an interview.