The Answer—It depends! When working with employers who are recruiting our students and alumni, this question has been asked many times. What I’ve discovered is that they are split about 50-50 when asked about the value of cover letters. Some tell me they seldom if ever read cover letters submitted with resumes, but others tell me they won’t even look at a resume if they don’t like what they see in the cover letter.
So what’s a Job Seeker to do? My advice is to always send a high quality cover letter with your resume. After all, you won’t know ahead of time whether you are sending your resume to an employer who values these letters or one who doesn’t. So, play it safe and submit one every time you apply for a job. If it’s well-written, it certainly can’t hurt you—and could help. If nothing else, it shows the employer you are a more serious candidate who took the time to “go that extra step.”
The key word here is “well-written.” A generic cover letter where you simply change the position title and employer contact information just won’t do! Take the time to review the job description and the employer’s website to determine what the employer is looking for. Then, call attention to those things about you and your background that relate directly to the employer’s requirements—and yes, this means you’ll be writing a different letter for each position. In addition, use a standard business letter format, and just like your resume, make sure your cover letter is flawless—no spelling or grammatical errors, and a concise, well-organized presentation of your skills and qualifications that directly relate to the job you are applying for (3-4 paragraphs, and never longer than one page).
One final tip: Address your letter to a “real person” if at all possible. You can sometimes find this on the employer’s website, or you can try calling their human resources department. Just tell them you are getting ready to apply for [position name} and need to know who to send your application to. This will work at least 70 – 80% of the time. If you simply can’t find a name, address your letter to a job title, like Human Resources Representative or Marketing Manager. DON’T ever use “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.” Most employers find those salutations to be highly offensive and probably won’t even read your letter or resume!