Is a Cover Letter Necessary in 2020? Do I Need a Cover Letter?

Asking yourself "Do I need a cover letter?" We surveyed 200 hiring decision-makers to find out if cover letters are still important in 2020.

Michael Tomaszewski, CPRW
Michael Tomaszewski, CPRW
Is a Cover Letter Necessary in 2020? Do I Need a Cover Letter?

Writing a cover letter takes time and effort, there’s no denying that. 

 

But are cover letters still necessary in today’s job search? Wouldn’t it be great if you could skip writing one altogether?

 

There are many contrasting opinions on that matter—most, supported by outdated studies or reports.

 

To find the real, definitive answer, we surveyed US hiring decision-makers: external recruiters, in-house HR team members, and teams’ hiring managers. 

 

Do you need a cover letter? 

 

Let’s hear from those who would read it.

 

How Important Is a Cover Letter?

 

A cover letter is an important component of the decision-making process among 83% of hiring managers, recruiters, and HR staff. 


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In a separate question, 83% respondents claimed that a great cover letter can secure you an interview even if your resume isn’t good enough.


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Bottom line—writing a cover letter can help you make up for flaws in your resume in more than 8 out of 10 cases.

 

Is a cover letter always required?

 

Even if not required, cover letters are usually preferred:

  • 74% of recruitment decision-makers prefer to receive job applications which include cover letters apart from resumes.
  • For jobs with a direct application process (for instance through an email), a cover letter is required 64% of the time.
  • For vacancies advertised via automated online tools (e.g. job boards such as Indeed, or internal career sites), 61% recruiters require cover letters.

 

Should you send a cover letter if it’s optional?

 

Even if a cover letter is optional it can still dramatically boost your chances of landing a job:

  • Even if submitting a cover letter is optional, 77% of recruiters will give preference to candidates who did send a cover letter.
  • 72% of recruiters still expect cover letters even if the job ad states they’re optional.


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In other words, that “optional” cover letter is pretty much mandatory in 2020.

 

So…

 

Why is a cover letter so important?

 

According to HR pros, cover letters are important and useful for the following purposes:

  • Explaining the motivation to join the company (63% of respondents)
  • Describing career objectives (50% of respondents)
  • Explaining the reasons for changing careers (50% of respondents)
  • Explaining employment gaps (49% of respondents)
  • Highlighting professional achievements (47% of respondents)


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Interestingly, only 36% of recruitment professionals consider cover letters useful for displaying that mythical “cultural fit.”

 

The lesson?

 

Keep your cover letter professional and focused on your career. No need to force jokes, look for common ground with the hiring manager or get overly cute.

 

Time for a recap then—

 

When do you need a cover letter?

 

According to this survey, you need a cover letter in most cases, especially when a cover letter is required in the job ad. When the cover letter is required for a given job posting and you fail to attach one, only 13% of decision-makers will process your application.

 

Do Employers and Recruiters Read Cover Letters?

 

  • 77% of hiring decision-makers said they would read the cover letter even if it wasn’t required.
  • When a cover letter is required, 74% of recruiters claim they read it.

 

With such an overwhelming majority of hiring pros highlighting the importance of cover letters, it would seem an obvious career move for job-seekers to send a covering letter alongside their resumes. Is it that obvious, though?

 

Do Candidates Send Cover Letters?

 

According to recruiters, most of the candidates don’t.

  • If it says cover letter optional in the job ad, only 35% of candidates attach a cover letter to their application.
  • If it says cover letter required, only 38% of candidates submit a cover letter.

 

Surprisingly, no matter what the job ad says, 6 out of 10 candidates don’t write a cover letter.

 

If you were on the fence about writing a cover letter, you should already be convinced.

 

One final question to consider—

 

In What Form Should You Send a Cover Letter?

 

There’s no dilemma if you’re applying via an automated system. Most likely, you’ll just have to follow the instructions and upload your cover letter or type it up in a proper field.

 

But what about applying through email? Should the email be the cover letter? Or do you need an attachment?

 

Sadly, we can’t give you a perfect answer.

 

When you submit a job application via email:

  • 49% of recruiters prefer when the cover letter is written in the email body.
  • 42% prefer to get a cover letter attached as a separate document.

 

Pay close attention to the job ad. Chances are, the preference regarding the cover letter will be specified.

 

No information about how to send a cover letter?

No need to obsess over it. Whether you write an email cover letter or attach your covering letter to your job application message won’t make or break your chances. 

 

Cover Letter or Resume—What Gets Read First?

 

Back in the day, a cover letter served as an actual paper cover page for your resume. Its purpose was to formally introduce you to the hiring manager and encourage them to read the resume.

  • Today, 36% of hiring decision-makers read a candidate’s cover letter before they review the resume. 
  • 37% will read the resume first. 
  • The remaining 27% will start with either document and won’t follow any particular order.

 

Methodology and Limitations

 

This survey was run by OnePoll on behalf of ResumeLab. In it, 200 recruiters, HR specialists and hiring managers were surveyed.

 

The data rely on online self-reports after eligibility screening. Each participant responded without any researcher administration or interference. Potential issues with self-reported data include but are not limited to exaggeration, selective memory, and attribution errors. Some questions and responses have been rephrased for clarity and ease of understanding for readers. In some cases, the percentages presented may not add up to 100 percent: this is either due to rounding or due to responses of “neither/other/don’t know” not being presented.

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Michael Tomaszewski, CPRW
Michael Tomaszewski, CPRW
Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Career Expert
Michael Tomaszewski is a resume expert and a career advice writer for ResumeLab. He is a certified professional resume writer (CPRW) and a member of the Professional Association of Résumé Writers & Career Coaches. Michael works with candidates across all career stages—from entry-level job seekers to executive coaches. His insights have been featured in CIO and Best Life Online. His mission is to help you tell the story behind your career and reinforce your professional brand by coaching you to create outstanding job application documents. More than one million readers read his career advice every month. For ResumeLab, Michael uses his connections to help you thrive in your career. From fellow career experts and insiders from all industries—LinkedIn strategists, communications consultants, scientists, entrepreneurs, digital nomads, or even FBI agents—to share their unique insights and help you make the most of your career. Michael has a degree in Liberal Arts and specializes in personal and professional storytelling.

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