Unless an employer specifically requests one, is it OK to skip the cover letter?

Share story

Q: When applying for jobs, I’m not sure what to do about cover letters. Some people say they’re a waste of time because employers just throw them away. On the other hand, I’ve also heard they may have some benefits.

Preparing both a résumé and a cover letter seems like a lot of work, so unless an employer specifically requests one, is it OK to leave that out?

A: In my opinion, cover letters fall into the “can’t hurt, might help” category — assuming, of course, that they’re properly done. Since job seekers should be looking for every possible advantage, preparing one seems worth the comparatively small effort. While “cover letter” sounds like something on paper, this is simply the narrative which accompanies your résumé, whether it’s a printed document, an online form or an email.

Sending the same boring, two-sentence message to everyone will add no value at all, so approach this task as a chance to stand out from the crowd. While the résumé provides a factual summary of your background, a letter can convey your personality and motivation, hopefully convincing employers that you’re someone they should meet.

You can explain why the job interests you, what excites you about this organization, how your experience can add value, and the attributes that make you an outstanding employee. But be sure to avoid oversharing. Descriptions of pets, hobbies, personal problems or religious beliefs may be considered irrelevant or inappropriate.

(Editor’s note: See more tips for writing a stellar cover letter.)