Career Tip: Tailor Your Cover Letter By Jesse Wingate, Assistant Director, Dartmouth College Career Services

Does the cover letter matter? I heard that employers don't even read the cover letter? If it does not say a cover letter is required, should I submit one?

We frequently hear students ask these questions when preparing to apply for a position, to which we reply by saying something to the effect of "don't underestimate the cover letter." It's true that there will be a plethora of employers and recruiters out there that pay little attention to the cover letter, however, there are also a great many (perhaps even within the same organization), that say that the cover letter is of utmost importance.

Err on the side of caution, and write a letter.

Here are some things to consider when facing any of the aforementioned questions:

Think about the competition

  • Even though you may be applying to very similar positions on paper, the organizations are very unique and have differences. The cover letter provides you an opportunity to assert your knowledge of the organization, and let them know that you've done your homework. Keep your competition in mind; while you may be applying to several positions that are very similar, you may have a peer that is applying to only one position and they're probably going to be spending much of their time writing a strong cover letter for that particular posting.

What does a letter tell an organization?

  • They don't require a cover letter, should I write one anyway? A cover letter can speak volumes. One of the benefits of writing a cover letter that is tailored for a particular position is that it shows the organization and search team that you are genuinely interested in them. A letter shows the employer that you have taken the time to learn about their organization and how they stand out amongst their competitors. On the flip side, what are you saying to the employer by not submitting a letter?

Tell the employer something different.

  • Without having a carefully tailored cover letter, you leave much open to interpretation. Your resume can be excellent, but it does not always display your passion and enthusiasm for a particular line of work. Take this opportunity to highlight a specific experience that demonstrates desirable skills. Show them that you've taken the time to learn about their position, and how you might fit in their organization.