Are Cover Letters Still Necessary in 2024?

In 2024, are cover letters still required? Find out in our recruiter-backed guide, which offers the latest insights and strategies for making your cover letter stand out.

5 months ago   •   7 min read

By Rohan Mahtani
Table of contents

The rise of AI-generated applications coupled with a rapid change in recruitment practices may lead you to wonder whether cover letters are still necessary in 2024.

Granted, cover letters are increasingly taking a back seat to resumes, a shift partly driven by the widespread use of generic cover letter generators. But cover letters remain an important aspect of your application materials, especially when used strategically and creatively.

Although cover letter generators are handy and efficient tools, they often produce outputs that are bland and boring. So how—and when—are you supposed to craft a compelling cover letter that conveys your unique personality with a tailored approach that can set you apart?

In this article, we’ll explore when to use a cover letter, industries in which cover letters can make a real difference, and how to put together a cover letter in a way that maximizes its impact.

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The declining relevance of cover letters

As the job market continues to evolve, the necessity of cover letters in 2024 is a topic of considerable debate. Cover letters have traditionally been a key component of job applications, but their significance is diminishing in the face of modern hiring practices and technological advancements.

Why cover letters are taking a back seat

The diminishing importance of cover letters in recent years can be traced back to several factors. The rise of digital job applications and LinkedIn profiles has shifted the focus towards more direct and succinct forms of professional presentation. Recruiters, inundated with a high volume of applications, often favor the concise, data-driven format of resumes over the narrative style of cover letters.

Widespread use of generic cover letter generators
The rise of generic cover letter generators marks a significant shift in 2024. While these tools offer convenience and efficiency, enabling job seekers to quickly produce cover letters by inserting keywords and standard phrases, they also contribute to a lack of originality. This often results in cover letters that are formulaic and fail to stand out, diminishing their effectiveness in capturing the hiring manager's interest.

Automated screening
Many companies now employ automated screening tools and Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) that prioritize resumes over cover letters. As a result, even the most meticulously crafted cover letters might not reach human eyes. This reality further calls into question the relevance of cover letters in the digital age, prompting job seekers to focus more on tailoring their resumes to make it past these automated filters successfully.

Resume supremacy
In today’s job market, resumes reign supreme for employers and recruiters, offering a concise and structured overview of a candidate's qualifications and experiences. As recruiters grapple with the sheer volume of applications, the brevity and clarity of a well-crafted resume have become more crucial than ever. This trend significantly overshadows the role of cover letters, leading many to question, "Is a cover letter necessary?"

Given its increased importance, you might be wondering how to ensure your resume stands out. That's where Resume Worded's Score My Resume can be a game-changer. This free service provides instant expert reviews, helping you understand key areas of improvement based on what recruiters and hiring managers look for.

When should you use a cover letter?

While cover letters may have lost some of their luster, there are still instances where they can be a valuable asset. Let's explore when you should consider using a cover letter in your job search.

When your resume doesn't fully tell your story

Sometimes, your resume alone may not convey the full breadth of your qualifications, experiences, or the unique career transitions you've navigated. This is where a cover letter can step in and bridge the gap. It's an opportunity to add color and context to your application, helping the hiring manager see beyond the bullet points of your resume.

Imagine you're transitioning from a career in education to corporate training. Your resume might highlight your educational experience, but a cover letter can explain your passion for corporate training and how your skills in education seamlessly translate to this new role.

When there's a good chance your cover letter will be read

The reality is not all cover letters get read. But in certain situations, the chances of your cover letter being thoroughly reviewed are higher. This could be when you're applying through a direct referral, emailing the hiring manager directly, or using platforms like Upwork where cover letters are key. In these cases, a well-crafted cover letter can set you apart from other candidates.

If you're applying for a job through a networking contact who's referred you to the hiring manager, including a tailored cover letter with your resume can make a strong impact. It shows you've taken the time to personalize your application, reinforcing the good word put in by your contact.

When your personality is a key selling point

In industries where personality and cultural fit are paramount, a cover letter provides a unique opportunity to let your individuality shine. It’s your chance to convey enthusiasm, passion, and the personal qualities that make you an ideal fit for the company culture.

If you're applying for a role in a creative industry, such as advertising or design, your cover letter can be a canvas for your creativity. Here, it’s not just about what you say but how you say it. A cover letter that showcases your creativity and personality can be as compelling as the portfolio itself.

Industries and jobs where your cover letter is vital

While the importance of cover letters is waning in many sectors, there are still specific industries and job types in which they stand out. Understanding where a cover letter can make a real difference is key.

Creative and communication-focused roles

A cover letter is often expected in industries like advertising, marketing, public relations, journalism, and other creative fields. These sectors look for candidates who can express ideas in a compelling and imaginative manner, a skill that a resume alone might not fully demonstrate.

Non-profit and community organizations

When you're aiming for a position in non-profit organizations, especially those focused on advocacy, community work, or social services, your passion and commitment to their cause are as important as your professional skills. Here, a cover letter can serve as a heartfelt testament to your dedication and personal motivations, which might not be apparent on your resume.

Executive and senior management positions

For high-level roles, a cover letter offers a window into your leadership philosophy, management style, and vision. It's not just about your past achievements but about how you plan to apply your experience and insights to the new role. In executive positions, where strategic thinking and long-term planning are critical, your cover letter can distinguish you as a visionary leader.

Academic and educational fields

In academia, whether you're applying for a faculty position, a research role, or an administrative post, a cover letter is vital. It allows you to describe your research interests, teaching philosophy, and commitment to the academic community — aspects that are fundamental to educational roles but may not be adequately conveyed through a resume.

Small businesses and startups

In smaller companies and startups, where each team member's contribution is significant, cultural fit and personal ethos are highly valued. Your cover letter can illustrate how your unique skills and experiences align with the company's vision and culture, helping you stand out in a pool of candidates.

Customer-facing and client-engagement roles

Roles that require strong interpersonal skills, such as sales, client services, or hospitality, benefit greatly from a well-crafted cover letter. It's a chance to demonstrate your ability to connect, engage, and understand customer needs, an aspect that's essential but not always apparent from a list of past job responsibilities.

Specialized technical positions

For technical roles in fields like engineering, IT, or scientific research, where specific skills or experiences are crucial, a cover letter provides the space to elaborate on how your expertise aligns with the job requirements. It can explain the nuances of your technical skills and experiences in a way that a resume might not.

How do you make the most of your cover letter?

Let's now focus on how to maximize the impact of your cover letter when it's part of your application.

Embrace automation tools wisely

In 2024, the automation tools have become quite popular. These tools are valuable for streamlining your writing process, offering basic templates and relevant details. However, the key to standing out is customization. Personalize each template for the specific job you're applying to. Avoid the common trap of submitting a generic, cookie-cutter cover letter. Show effort and originality in your application to make a lasting impression.

Prioritize your resume

Don’t forget that in the fast-paced world of recruitment, your resume often takes precedence. Recruiters, pressed for time, may not always review cover letters. So your resume should be the centerpiece of your application, showcasing your key achievements, skills, and experiences. A strong, well-crafted resume is your primary tool for catching a recruiter's eye.

Understand how recruitment works

Cover letters have seen a downward trend for a reason. Many recruiters, dealing with a high volume of applications, opt for quick decision-making, frequently overlooking cover letters. While a compelling cover letter can catch attention, it's vital to manage your expectations about its impact. Be aware that, despite your efforts, your cover letter might not always be the deciding factor.

Recognize the digital abyss

In today's digital job market, your cover letter might not always make it past the application tracking systems (ATS). These systems filter and screen applications, often based on specific criteria. If your cover letter doesn't align with these criteria, it might never reach a human reader. Be mindful of how ATS works and tailor your cover letter accordingly.

Complement, don't duplicate

Your cover letter should complement, not duplicate, your resume. Use it to provide additional context, share anecdotes, or offer insights that your resume doesn't cover. The goal is to provide a fuller picture of your qualifications and motivations.

Be realistic

The effectiveness of your cover letter can vary widely depending on the company, industry, and specific hiring practices. Some employers may value cover letters more than others. It's essential to research and understand the preferences of the company you're applying to, but also be prepared for variability in how your cover letter is received.

Let your personality shine

Infusing your personality into your cover letter can make it memorable. However, it's important to strike a balance. Avoid overloading your cover letter with excessive personal stories or information that isn't relevant to the job requirements. Your focus should be on how your unique qualities make you an ideal candidate for the position.

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