If you want to give yourself the best chance of not only being hired but also finding the best-fit role for you, a cover letter is essential in 2024.
With social media activity taking up increasingly more of a job seeker’s time and emotional energy, cover letters are no longer the only outlet for their personality to come through. However, as job seekers compete with each other for that dream role, the cover letter is the only permanent part of the job application process that allows them to share their “why.”
We consider the nuances of why a cover letter is still required in 2023. For example,
- When is a cover letter required?
- Do I need to create a cover letter for every role?
- When not to include a cover letter
- Popular alternatives to a cover letter
If you understand the reasons why a cover letter is still so important, you will hopefully dedicate enough time to writing one. We believe that it could make all the difference.
Why your cover letter is more important than ever in 2023
According to the World Economic Forum, developments such as technological advancement and green shifts mean that over 1 billion people’s livelihoods will drastically change by 2030.
These changes are reflected in the skills employers are looking for. According to a Pearce study of labor market trends, communication is one of the top skills currently in demand. By 2026 this is projected to be overtaken by skills like cultural and social intelligence.
The format and length of a cover letter are optimal to showcase nuanced soft skills such as these. In short, a cover letter is a perfect place to remind an employer of the human touch you bring to a role.
When is a cover letter required?
Every job seeker should assume that a cover letter is required unless they are specifically told otherwise. It is comforting to think that you have a choice in this time-consuming job search task, but it is undeniable that a great cover letter will help you.
Your time to shine
Forbes predicts that more and more companies will move towards data-driven hiring in 2023. That means more structured job applications and less room for free expression.
So, if there is room to attach a cover letter, this is a rare opportunity to showcase your soft skills and personality. Don’t let it go to waste!
Is it unprofessional not to have a cover letter?
When you apply for a job, while a cover letter may not be explicitly required, it is often implicitly anticipated. Cover letters have not died; they play a specific role in the recruitment process, and, yes, it is unprofessional not to include one.
It is a reflection on your professionalism if you are not giving the hiring manager every possible bit of information about your candidature. Not sending a cover letter (unless it is specifically not required) is the equivalent of sending a half-hearted resume.
3 Reasons why you need a cover letter
- It is expected practice. Cover letters have been an integral part of the recruitment industry for the past couple of decades. They may not be sent by snail mail these days and they don’t always even resemble letters, but 95 percent of the time they are still required.
- A cover letter sets you apart. While every candidate will write a cover letter, how you write it (and tailor it to the role) will set you apart from the generic crowd. If it is clearly written for the role the hiring manager will understand that you are invested in the opportunity.
- You go the extra mile. Many roles will not specify the need for a cover letter and with the amount of negativity towards them, not all candidates will write one. Just the act of sending a thoughtful cover letter will put a candidate in the top tier - whether the letter is digested carefully, or not.
Do employers look at the cover letter or resume first?
It is standard practice that an employer will read a resume first. Whether they are reading a bunch together and then deciding which cover letters to read in more detail, or whether they look at the merits of each individual application, your resume needs to do the job.
They will then read the respective cover letters. When they come across a particularly compelling cover letter, they will go back to the resume for another (deeper) read. That is the core role of a cover letter – to make a hiring manager dive deep into your application.
Is a cover letter required for an online application?
There may not always be the opportunity to attach a cover letter with an online application, so do your best to cut and paste your best lines into the application itself. Include them in any video submittals and use a few of the arguments in any “extra” information about your candidature that you may be able to add at the end of an application process.
Do you have to write a cover letter for every job?
You will still require a tailored cover letter for most job applications. It is up to you how much you tailor it - depending on how keen you are on the role - but the hiring manager will be able to spot a generic cover letter from a mile away.
Why do cover letters still exist?
“Are cover letters a waste of time?” That thought will be at the forefront of any busy job seeker’s mind. With increasingly time-consuming online applications, it is often a choice between sitting down for an hour to tailor a cover letter or applying for another job.
Cover letters exist because they help to make those extra connections between a candidate and a hiring manager before an interview. Simple as that.
Do companies even read cover letters?
Hiring decisions are informed by both data and emotions. Candidates need to make the hiring manager feel a certain way about how they are as well as what they can potentially achieve. Employers know that a well-written cover letter can share insights into a candidate that no resume can.
If the employer is interested in a candidate because the experience in their resume is a decent fit for the role, you can be sure that they will read the cover letter. If a candidate is borderline, they may choose not to. Make your cover letter sing, just in case.
When not to include a cover letter
There are three occasions when it is best not to include a cover letter:
1. When you are specifically told not to submit one
Some companies may not believe in the benefits of a cover letter (or want their hiring managers spending the time reading all the bad ones), so sometimes job ads or descriptions specify that cover letters are not required.
No matter how awesome your cover letter is, make sure that you follow instructions. In this case, maybe consider tweaking the text of your resume with content from your cover letter to make it more personal.
2. When the technology doesn’t allow cover letters
With online applications that are increasingly integrated with social media (in particular, LinkedIn), the antiquated “letter” is no longer required. Many application systems will allow a candidate to attach their resume and any other supporting documents, so if this is the case then you should attach a cover letter. Give your candidature the best possible chance.
One interesting approach is to integrate the contents of your cover letter into your LinkedIn profile. While the hiring manager or other people in the recruitment process may not read your cover letter attentively, they will definitely check you out on LinkedIn. Make the most of the LinkedIn space (especially the “about me” LinkedIn section).
3. When the cover letter is poorly written
The third circumstance when you should not attach a cover letter is if it is poorly written. If your writing isn’t quite up to scratch, get a friend to help you, but do not send a cover letter if you are not confident that it will reflect well on you.
It is better to wait for a day to edit and amend it than send off a piece of writing that is substandard. In this category come generic cover letters – each letter must be tailored for each role.
What should you avoid in a cover letter?
It is important that your cover letter should not become too personal. For sure do your research on the role, but don’t start to talk about how you have so much in common with the hiring manager or tell them intimate details about your personal life. Your professional “why” can still be fascinating.
Cover letter example for 2023
Re: Prison and probation officer role
Dear Mr. Hitchington,
As an experienced prison and probation officer, I have both worked with inmates in the prison and been involved in the decisions of which inmates qualify for release. With this experience, I have a deep understanding of when offenders are ready to return to society. I have worked in correctional facilities with over 600 offenders and have handled over 150 probation cases since moving from prison warder four years ago.
Following these individuals through their time in the prison system has prepared me to then help offenders reintegrate back into society. In my previous role, I ran a service to help previous offenders find work and remained in touch to help solve any issues. Integration into the community was most effective when there was stable work, and this was the number one factor in the lack of reoffending. I know that your facility has strong links with many employers, and I would be keen to get involved.
I have been involved in sentencing recommendations throughout my ten-year career and have evolved my understanding of the penal code and where there is room for individual leeway. If an offender has done their penance and has been rehabilitated, they should be given a second chance – if they are mentally able and psychologically prepared. Only 5% of those that I personally oversaw have reoffended.
My work in the State of Nevada penal system has brought me six commendations and my last state appraisal mentioned me as one of the “young stars” of the correctional system. I hope that my new move to a bigger prison facility will allow me to increase my impact on improving offender actions and behaviors.
I would welcome the opportunity of an interview to share my letters of recommendation and my thoughts on how I might work within your probation team.
Two popular alternatives to a cover letter
As mentioned previously, there are more modern ways to share your personality as a candidate than a cover letter. These two alternatives should be considered as an addition to a cover letter rather than a replacement.
LinkedIn is your online cover letter
While LinkedIn used to be the equivalent of your online resume, the wealth of opportunity to tell your career story on the platform is making it more like a cover letter with every new feature. You can build an industry audience and talk about what matters to you with updates, posts, shares, articles, videos, and newsletters.
The ability to “feature” select pieces of content (that get good engagement) will bring them to the attention of any hiring manager viewing your profile. The multimedia options are compelling – every job seeker should take advantage.
Do you need a LinkedIn profile in 2023?
A LinkedIn survey asked top recruiting professionals to identify the most impactful technologies for the industry’s future. Coming out on top were tools to find and engage candidates as well as to analyze the talent market.
Combine these projections with the increasing number of employers checking their potential hires' social media accounts. Keeping a polished LinkedIn profile no longer seems like it’s merely optional.
Many online application processes now include video as part of their appraisal process and many candidates are creating their own “career story” videos to share on socials and with hiring managers directly.
This direct access to potential employers has transformed the hiring process – while a cover letter is hard to read online, a 45-second video will go down nicely. Make sure that you have something hyper-relevant to say – wasting their time early in the process is not a good idea.
Web statistics indicate that there has been a 57% uptake in the use of video during the recruitment process from 2019-2022. Pandemic aside, video is a time and cost-efficient way for hiring managers to assess applicants. Therefore, video cover letters could play a bigger role in this into 2023 and beyond.
There is more to the question than whether a cover letter is necessary in 2023. Yes, they are still required, but candidates should also realize just why they are important. A well-written and targeted cover letter will help them to achieve the following:
- Share their personality and motivations in a way that is impossible on a resume.
- Write a free-form account of exactly why the specific job is a fit for you.
- Explore how they achieved things as well as what they did.
- Enable a link to social media and video resumes as part of their career story.
The time that you invest in writing a bespoke cover letter is directly proportional to its impact on your job search. Let your cover letter story sell your career potential.