At the start of this year, with reports of almost full employment and a range of skills in high demand, I started to ask around to see if cover letters were still relevant?

I started with our own recruiters and the answer seemed to be quite dependent on the industry. Our Marketing recruitment consultant Clare, for example, finds them quite useful. She recommends “even 4 or 5 lines, aligning your experience to the key skills outlined in job spec/ad and why you are interested in this role is definitely a plus in marketing in my opinion.”

While on the other end of the spectrum the answer was a definite no. Helena, who specialises in jobs with language skills, advised… “Cover letters are not required when applying for language jobs. It is a very competitive market, so employers are more interested to hear (in just a few lines) how much the candidate knows about the company and especially how active the candidate is on the market (current interview processes, stages and companies.)”

Other feedback was that public sector companies still favour cover letters, retailers generally don’t and in a quick social poll on our Facebook and Twitter accounts that asked our followers if they’re still asked for a cover letter 56% said Yes and 44% said No.

In short – cover letters are both relevant and irrelevant, it all depends on what kind of job you’re looking for and how in-demand your skills and experience are.

How to write a good cover letter if the job requires it

Let them know why you want the job

If you look up the definition of a cover letter it’s defined as “a letter sent with, and explaining the contents of, another document or a parcel of goods.” A good cover letter should elaborate on your CV and really explain why you want the job and why the contents of your CV make you the best person for the role.

Maybe you love the brand and it aligns with your interests, maybe you met someone from that company before and loved the sound of the culture or maybe you’ve grown as much as you can in your current role and are looking for a new challenge. Whatever it is your cover letter is a good place to outline it.

Align your experience to the job spec

Following on from this prove that what’s on your CV makes you suitable for the role. You should never duplicate what’s on your resume in a cover letter. Instead, highlight your most relevant achievements and how they’ll benefit your new potential employer. Your availability and your current work status can also be helpful to include.

Referral information

If you’ve heard about the role through a connection a cover letter’s a good place to highlight this. If you haven’t it’s still helpful to let the employer know how you heard about the role – whether you saw it on LinkedIn, on a recruitment website, on the employer’s own website etc.

It might seem simple but if you cover these three things that’s all you should need. Keep things short and always personalise each letter – the worst mistake you can make is sending the same generic cover letter with each application.

Overall, it seems the questions of whether cover letters are still relevant or not isn’t clear cut.  It seems that more in demand industries who are struggling to fill top roles no longer require a cover letter, but other industries do still value a personalised cover letter.

Provide what’s asked for and if you’re struggling to figure out how to find the right role or perfect your CV we have lots more helpful articles in our career advice centre.

Ready to apply for jobs now? We have lots of those too – browse them on our job board.