Have cover letters become a thing of the past?

Q: Should I write a cover letter for every job application I submit?

I haven't searched for a job in a while. Is a cover letter still necessary or have things changed? — Hal B.

If you're wondering whether you still need a cover letter for your job search, you're not alone. Many of you have reached out to me over the years asking this specific cover-letter question. And it makes sense — if you've asked colleagues or peers whether you should write a cover letter, I'll bet good money you've received some conflicting advice.

That's because the data on this topic sends some pretty mixed messages. For instance, according to the 2016 Recruiter Nation Report by recruitment software provider Jobvite, 74 percent of recruiters do not consider cover letters important in their decision to hire an applicant. However, a poll from recruitment firm Robert Half found that 90 percent of executives consider cover letters to be invaluable when assessing candidates.

So what does that mean for you? Well here's my take …

You still need to write a cover letter!

While it's true that not every hiring manager or recruiter will read your cover letter — in fact, the last time I informally polled employers on the topic, many of the respondents admitted to regularly skipping over this document and jumping straight to the resume — there is still a portion of employers who consider the cover letter to be important. When you're applying for a job, there's no way of knowing for sure which side of the fence that employer falls on. Better safe than sorry, right? This is why many of our resume-writing services include a cover letter as part of the package.

A cover letter is also a great way to give employers a glimpse of your personality or to add some additional context to your application when you're changing careers or searching for work after a substantial employment gap.

Of course, not all cover letters are created equal. A poorly written cover letter can hurt — rather than help — your candidacy. Check out the following resources for tips on how to craft a winning cover letter for every job application:

Exceptions to the cover-letter rule

There are some exceptions to this rule. If the job listing specifically states that a cover letter isn't necessary or required, you shouldn't feel compelled to write one. In fact, blatantly ignoring the instructions found within the job listing is a surefire way to get your application discarded.

Final thoughts

The next time you find yourself asking, “Do I need a cover letter?”, assume the answer is yes and start thinking about what information you can incorporate into your cover letter to set your application apart.

Amanda Augustine is a certified professional career coach (CPCC) and resume writer (CPRW) and the resident career expert for Talent Inc.'s suite of brands: TopResume, TopCV, and TopInterview. On a regular basis, she answers user questions like the one above. Have a question? Take a look at her career advice or ask a question on her Quora page.

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