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Manpower reporter Tay Hong Yi offers practical answers to candid questions on navigating workplace challenges and getting ahead in your career.

Are cover letters necessary for job applications?

A: While a cover letter may not always be needed, a well-crafted one helps employers to distinguish exceptional candidates from the rest, says Ms Lim Xiao Yu, a career specialist at the Employment and Employability Institute.

Ms Lim notes: “The cover letter introduces one’s resume, highlighting an individual’s key achievements, skills and experiences.

“It is the first opportunity for the job seeker to express enthusiasm for the position and provide genuine reasons for wanting to join the company.”

A compelling cover letter also offers a glimpse into the candidate’s personality, shaping the questions interviewers ask, she adds.

Ms Lisa Loo, a senior career coach with Workforce Singapore, says some sectors and job roles may require a cover letter, such as positions in marketing, public relations, customer service and sales that prioritise communication skills.

“It is also prevalent in sectors such as hospitality, tourism and social services where interpersonal connection and cultural fit are essential,” she adds, referring to fields that require a genuine passion for the employer’s mission.

Ms Lim advises applicants to study the job description and highlight relevant achievements, skills and experiences that match the requirements.

“Candidates should identify and present their unique qualifications for the job role, demonstrating a perfect fit for the role.”

She also suggests that candidates include their contact details in the letterhead, as well as address the hiring manager, if known, by name for a personal touch.

The first paragraph should outline the specific job title and its attributes as well, in that vein.

“Candidates can then briefly express relevant capabilities and passion for the role and company,” says Ms Lim.

“Personalise the body of the letter by aligning your skills and experience with the job requirements, using key words from the job description to showcase relevance.”

Candidates should also look into recent developments in the company, such as through its website, that they can cite, Ms Lim adds.

A cover letter also provides an opportunity to showcase examples of the applicant’s good work that were not covered in the resume.

“Despite debate on its declining importance, cover letters remain a valuable tool in the job-application process today,” Ms Lim says.

Likewise, Ms Loo says cover letters still offer a chance to showcase unique personal qualities that may not be evident from the resume alone, even though the importance of such letters may have diminished with the rise of online job-application portals and automated screening processes.

Ms Lim says cover letters let seasoned professionals focus the attention of hiring managers, while less qualified candidates could benefit from telling an earnest, compelling story that shows their motivation.

Written properly, a cover letter improves the chances for a job application to be advanced, even if employers say the letter is optional, Ms Lim says.

Conversely, sending a generic letter could backfire by suggesting a lack of effort or genuine interest in the job opening.

In situations where job seekers apply for too many openings to have a customised cover letter for each, they should prioritise roles that closely align with their skills, experience and qualifications, and also those resonating with their interests.

“From there, job seekers can tailor their applications for roles where a cover letter is explicitly requested, as it indicates its importance in the hiring process,” says Ms Lim.

A cover letter is particularly useful when a worker seeks to switch career or industry, experts say.

Such letters let workers explain their motivations for transitioning, highlight relevant transferable skills, and allay potential concerns about their background not aligning perfectly with the new role, Ms Loo says.

“While a resume showcases work experience, a cover letter lets you link that experience to the new role,” Ms Lim notes.

Even if an individual is not switching careers, a cover letter is a versatile tool for conveying details of career goals, aspirations or employment gaps in his or her employment history that a resume cannot, she adds.

Have a question? Send it to askst@sph.com.sg

This article was originally published in The Straits Times.