There’s a lot of debate out there about cover letters and their necessity. People wonder if they have to write one if the job description does not ask for one. Even if it does, people still tend to wonder if they have to write one. Here are some quick guidelines about whether or not you need to, as well as how to make sure when you do, it gets read.

  1. If the posting says, “we accept resumes only” or “no cover letters please,” do not send a cover letter.
  2. If the posting says, “cover letter optional,” write a cover letter.
  3. If the posting says, “please submit a resume and cover letter,” write a cover letter.
  4. If the posting makes absolutely no mention of a cover letter, write a cover letter.

As you can see, in most instances, you should write a cover letter. Why? An employer typically will read your resume first. If you appear equivalent to another applicant with regard to qualifications, the employer will likely read your cover letter. If you did not submit one and the other applicant did, who’s going to get the call for interview?

Here’s how to make sure your entire cover letter is read.

Rule #1: Do not submit the same cover letter to every job.

First, if you do this, you run the risk of forgetting to edit the text and end up sending a letter addressed to “Ms. Harris” to Mr. Johnson, or refers to Raytheon in an application to Booz Allen. Second, if you think an employer can’t tell when you’re submitting a generic cover letter to every job, think again. It’s blaringly obvious every single time. They’ve read enough letters to know who’s taken the time to try to understand the job requirements and company and who has not.

Rule #2: Address it to a real person.

This is extremely important. Writing “To Whom It May Concern,” “Dear Hiring Manager,” or “Dear Human Resources Representative” is an immediate turn off. You can almost always find the name of a real person in the company to whom you can address your cover letter. Try to find the name of the person who heads the department to which the job belongs. If that’s not clear or easy to find, search for the head of human resources and use his name.

On, you can readily see who to address your cover letter to – beneath every job you’ll see  ‘Posted by:‘ with a link to the recruiter profile.

Rule #3: Do not just regurgitate your resume.

The cover letter should not just paraphrase your resume. The resume and cover letter serve different purposes. The resume is a concise work history. The cover letter is your chance complement the information in your resume with details or anecdotes. It should explain to the reader how your background directly aligns with the organization and job to which you’re applying.

Rule #4: It’s not all about you.

Employers want you to tell them why your experience makes you the ideal person for the job. What benefit will you bring to the job and/or company? What problem will you help them address? Why are you the best person to do that? Try not to use cliché phrases or character statements like “self-starter” or “good communicator.” Instead, you want to demonstrate those characteristics by giving examples of your current or previous work and how it applies to work you expect you would do at this company.

The cover letter is not simply extra space for things that you could not fit in your resume. It is your chance to demonstrate to the employer through narratives how you are able to do the job and be an effective member of their team. If you neglect to write a letter for a job that doesn’t explicitly state “no cover letters please,” you’ve significantly lowered your chance of landing an interview.

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Marcelle Yeager helps people land jobs that get them to the next level of their career. Through her company Career Valet, she works with mid- to senior-level professionals on their branding strategy and job search materials to secure new roles. She co-founded a second business in 2015 called ServingTalent, where she finds jobs for talented military and Foreign Service spouses. Marcelle has spent over six years living and working abroad. She can be reached at