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What Is a Cover Letter for a Job? Definition, Purpose, Meaning

What Is a Cover Letter for a Job? Definition, Purpose, Meaning

Everyone has heard of one, but what is a cover letter for a job and what does it do? Here’s a simple explanation plus a full toolbox of cover letter advice.

A cover letter (covering letter, motivation letter, motivational letter or a letter of motivation) is a document attached to your job application that shows why you’re the best candidate. It introduces you in a more personal way and compliments the info on your resume or curriculum vitae, expanding on the skills and achievements, and highlighting a selection of your greatest career successes.


Though it is personalized, a cover letter for a resume should also be clean and visually organized.


Here is a cover letter sample created with our cover letter builder.


what is a cover letter

Sample cover letter created with our builder: See more templates and create your cover letter now.

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See that? This resume cover letter presents the candidate in a memorable way telling stories that show his skills and experience match what the employer seeks. It’s also well-organized and long enough.


The difference between a resume and a cover letter is clear: a resume is a list of specs and a cover letter is a full-blown marketing campaign. Yes, it still mentions facts and figures, but it puts them out the in the form of a story.


You can find more in-depth information on how to write cover letters in our dedicated guides:

Now, let’s discover why cover letters are still a thing in 2019.


What’s the Purpose of a Cover Letter for a Job in Today’s Hiring?


Ever wondered why it’s called a cover letter? Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, people submitted job applications on paper. The cover letter served as the actual cover page for the resume.


It doesn’t work like that today of course. Now it’s just a smart way to provide context to your application, convey motivation, show your personality, etc.


Regardless, you still need a cover letter and it’s still important. Here’s why:

  • 53% of employers say a resume alone is not enough.
  • 49% of recruiters see a cover letter as a factor that’ll make them pay more attention to your application. That’s the second-best way to boost your chances after a properly targeted resume.
  • 45% of recruiters say not having a cover letter will get your resume rejected, according to our hr statistics piece.
  • Resume cover letters need to be a quick introduction to your skills and achievements. Nearly 70% of employers are looking for a half-page or less and 70% of employers spend less than five minutes reviewing a job application.
  • 26% of recruiters still list cover letters for a resume as being of “high importance.” So no cover letter means you’ve ruined your chances with a quarter of employers.
  • They’re crucial in explaining any parts of your resume that are less attractive to recruiters, like employment gaps.
  • You can easily tweak it to create a letter of interest to tap the hidden job market. Around 15% of hires are made from sources other than standard job ads or referrals.


What is the Point of a Cover Letter?


The purpose of a cover letter is to provide additional background information about your application. The goal of the cover letter is to highlight your best qualifications, explain what's missing from your resume, and show a bit of your personal story. In 2020, it shows your commitment to the potential job, as it requires extra time on your part to write one.


Pro Tip: Do you always need a cover letter? It is important in four cases: if the job ad requires it, if the recruiter requests it, if you're applying directly to a person and know their name, or if someone has referred you for the position.


Key Takeaway


Here’s a brief roundup of what a cover letter for a job is:

  • A cover letter is a document attached to your job application that shows why you’re the best candidate.
  • Not everyone expects cover letters, but a significant proportion of employers still do. 
  • If you don’t include one, you’re significantly reducing your chances of finding a job.


Is there anything we didn’t cover? Still not convinced you need a resume cover letter? Hit us up in the comments section. We’d love to help.

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Jacques Buffett
Jacques is a career expert committed to delivering top-notch job hunting advice. His guides will empower you to craft winning resumes and cover letters.

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