Resume Help/Cover Letter help


Dear Dr. Converse,

The job I am applying for doesn't require a cover letter.  The announcement says it is optional.  Do you recommend I send one or is it okay to leave it off?  If I don't include one with my application, do you think it will hurt my job chances?  Thanks.

Hi Mariel,

This is becoming a more frequent practice by employers though I am not certain why.  The cover letter is your opportunity to tell your story in narrative form.  It gives you a chance to link your skills and qualifications to the needs of a particular employer.  That is the main purpose of the cover letter.  

There is a school of thought today that cover letters serve no purpose and employers don't read them anyway.  I'm sure that is true for some employers.  But I can assure you that it is not true for all - or even a majority of - employers.  As someone who has reviewed tens of thousands of application packages over the years, I can assure you that the cover letter was always the first thing I looked at to see what kind of individual the applicant was.  I wanted to know if they could express themselves in a professional way through the written word.  In this world of tweets and texts, the ability to write coherently is becoming more rare.  But that doesn't mean that it is becoming less important.  And my interviews with hundreds of employers over the years tell me that I am not the only one who feels that way.

The question you have to ask yourself is: "Am I willing to leave the cover letter out of my application package knowing that there are competitors for this job who will include one?"  This is a rhetorical question.  I hope your answer is "No."  If the letter is "optional" then you certainly have the choice to leave it out.  But why would you do that?  When I interviewed those employers I referred to above, I was doing it in preparation for writing one of my books on job searching.  Some of them actually told me they made the cover letter optional as bait.  In the words of one of them, "I wanted to see who the lazy ones were."  I am sure that many employers who make the letter optional mean what they are saying: it's optional and your inclusion of one - or not - will not materially affect your chances at the job.  But how do you know whether the option is sincere or bait?  The answer is you don't.  

So, my direct answer to your first question is yes, I recommend you send a letter.  If you do, you have the opportunity to tell your story and there is absolutely no down side to this choice.  An employer may choose not to read it, but you have no way to know if they will or they won't.  So, include the letter with the knowledge that you can only enhance your chances at the job, not hurt them.  If you choose not to include a letter, there is the possibility of a definite downside, so why take that chance?  You have everything to gain and nothing to lose by writing a sincere and well-crafted cover letter.

If you need help with this, send me a draft of your letter as an email attachment to the address below and I'll be happy to critique it for you.

Best wishes,

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Ralph D. Converse, Ph.D.


I can answer questions about general job searches, resume construction, crafting an effective cover letter, and how to prepare for, and conduct, a winning interview. My speciality is the field of education, but I also have extensive background in business and administration. I know what works and what doesn't work and I can make your application package stand out from the rest ... because that is what you have to do.


I have interviewed for, and held, dozens of jobs in a career going back more than 42 years. I have taught at all educational levels including middle school, high school, community college, and university. In more than 42 years of experience on both sides of the job-search process, I have interviewed hundreds of applicants and have reviewed literally tens of thousands of job application packages. I am the author of 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them! I conduct workshops for job seekers in a variety of locations every year.

Music Educator's Journal, Teaching Music, Music and American Culture (forthcoming, 2013), Last Teacher Standing: The Job is Yours Now! and 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them!

B.A. New Mexico State University; M.Mus. Southern Illinois University; Ph.D. University of California and University of North Texas

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