What is the Point of a Cover Letter?

Woman struggling to write a cover letter


Ask a room full of recruiters and hiring authorities what they think about cover letters, and you’re likely to get a lot of groans followed by a lively debate. Some employers love cover letters, and some won’t even bother to open them. So how do you know what to do?

Here are my thoughts on the cover letter questions we hear most often: 

What is the point of a cover letter?

A good cover letter explains why a job seeker is interested in and fit for the specific role, why they’re interested in the company, and any details that aren’t obvious from their resume (such as pending relocation plans).

However, employers aren’t just reading for context; your cover letter, like your resume, may be viewed as a stand-in for a work sample and judged accordingly.

Grammatical errors, missed details, and glaring mistakes in the cover letter may be used as a reason to remove a candidate from consideration — a poorly edited cover letter might be worse than none at all. 

Consider what employers are looking for in your cover letter, and how to make a strong positive impression.

Should I write a cover letter?

If a job posting specifically asks for a cover letter, yes, definitely. If you’re really excited about the job and want to communicate that, that’s also a good reason. The significance of a cover letter varies depending on the situation.

If they’re not asking for a cover letter and you’re not that interested in the job yourself, it may not be worth the time — they’re by no means required. 

What about career transitions? Can a cover letter help?

If you’re going about a career transition, you may find the cover letter to be a helpful tool in communicating your story.

However, whether or not an employer reads your letter may depend on their willingness to consider a non-traditional background, which is dependent on countless factors, the largest one being the number of competitive candidates with traditional experience to the field. Networking and informational interviewing may help you navigate where to focus your efforts.

Should I use AI to write my cover letter? I can just copy-paste the job description and the results are pretty good.

A good cover letter can’t be written (or generated) without knowing what you know about your own experience and your own interest in a role and company, so a generic AI-written cover letter probably isn’t worth sending. 

That being said, AI text generation tools are just that — tools — and you may find use for them in the process of developing and editing your cover letter, among other things. 

How should I format my cover letter?

The days of a cover letter needing fancy business headers aligned to one side or the other are behind us; think less about the formatting and more about the content. If you’re submitting an application via email, include your letter right there in the message as well.


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