Do I Really Need a Cover Letter? Answers to 9 Common Job Application Questions

A young man is interviewed by two hiring managers

One of the most annoying parts of applying for jobs is that conventional wisdom quickly becomes outdated. Career advisers who haven’t applied for (or gotten) a new job in years may be offering expired advice that won’t increase your chances of landing your dream job. In some cases, that advice could do more harm than good.

We tracked down fresh, up-to-date answers to some of the most common questions job hunters are asking today.

1. Do I really need a cover letter?


Obviously, if the job posting asks for one, you should provide it. Even if it doesn’t, though, your application still needs some form of introduction. Plus, a cover letter gives you a chance to expand on your resume and show your personality. (Just don’t overdo it!)

But there is a wrong way to go about drafting a cover letter, and recruiters and HR pros love comparing terrible introductions in the constant pursuit of the worst cover letter ever.

One Quora user offers a basic but useful template for drafting your cover letter that breaks the process down into four parts:

  • I saw: details on where you found the job posting
  • You need: summarize the key features the employer is looking for
  • I have: a quick summary of why your skills are a good fit (with specifics)
  • Let’s meet: an invitation for both employer and applicant to take the next step

2. Should I attach my cover letter if I’m emailing my application?

It depends.

First and foremost, stick to the specific job’s application guidelines—hiring managers see dozens, if not hundreds, of applications a day and are always on the lookout for excuses to eliminate applicants, including not attaching a cover letter when the application says to.

Unless it’s a strict requirement, though, chances are that hiring managers won’t care whether you attach it or put it in the body of the email. In cases where it’s not spelled out, why not do both?

3. Are online applications a waste of time?


The general consensus is that online applications are not a complete waste of time, but they’re certainly an uphill battle. It’s the only way a lot of companies accept applications these days.

So unless you’re willing to eliminate most of the jobs out there from your search, plan on spending some serious time completing applications on websites that look like they haven’t been updated in about a decade. Most significantly, online applications require your resume and cover letter to be that much better to separate you from the proverbial stack of digital applications.

4. Can my resume be longer than one page?

Yes—with a big, fat asterisk.

Virtually all hiring managers are looking at resumes on a computer, so scrolling to a second page is no big deal. You can stop eliminating all the margins and reducing the font until it’s unreadable.

Now for that asterisk: people are going to look at your resume for 10 or 20 seconds, tops. When hiring managers see a longer resume (especially for entry-level jobs with less-experienced applicants), they don’t just assume that the person is more qualified. They probably think that the person tried to cram in every achievement from middle school on.

The one-page rule may be dead, but quality still beats quantity. Rather than going into detail about everything you’ve accomplished since sixth grade, spend that time improving the designlanguage and format of your resume. Whatever you do, avoid the pitfalls that CareerBuilder has made a tradition of lambasting.

One last note about resumes: remember that your social media profiles (public or otherwise) should be treated like an extension of your resume.

5. Should I include an objective on my resume?

Probably not.

Unless your objective is different from everyone else’s (it probably isn’t), it’s not worth taking up precious resume space to essentially say that you want a job that pays all right. It offers little value and gives resume readers one more opportunity to reject your resume before they even get to the good stuff. Just take a look at this compilation of terrible objectives sent to a recruiter at a large insurance company.

Summary statements have replaced objectives for some applicants. The Muse points out that summary statements are especially useful for applicants who want to expand on how their unique skill set could be useful—for example, how your experience in food service or your double major in art history and business will make you a better employee.

6. Should I list references?

It’s optional.

Again, every square inch of your resume is precious real estate (think Brooklyn prices). If you’re serious about the job, chances are that you can put the company in touch with a few folks who can vouch for you. “References available upon request” is cliché, and it doesn’t say anything special—that should be a given.

7. Do I have to tailor my resume to every application?

How badly do you want the job?

Before your resume ever gets in front of an actual human being, it’ll likely be scanned with an applicant-tracker system. These automated systems look for excuses to toss your resume aside, ranging from spelling errors to a lack of relevant skills.

The best way to get past this digital blockade is to tweak your resume to match as many skills and keywords from the job description and company website as possible. Most of these systems are advanced enough that you don’t have to match phrases word for word, but if the job posting calls for Microsoft Word and Excel skills, why not take 10 seconds to change the line about Microsoft Office in your resume?

8. Should I call to follow up or schedule an interview?


What was once considered common courtesy is now just an annoying interruption for hiring managers.

9. Do I need a LinkedIn profile?


Paying for a LinkedIn Premium account might not be worth the monthly fee, but having a presence on the world’s most boring (and useful) social network is a no-brainer. Surveys consistently find that four out of five jobs are won through networking. LinkedIn is a natural way to create an online network and stay connected to people you meet in real life.

During the actual job hunt, reaching out to your professional network always beats trawling online job boards. Obviously, the bigger your professional network, the better your outreach efforts will be. If you’re looking for a career in risk management and insurance, that means creating your network in college and putting in your time at networking events.

Looking for additional job hunt advice? Be sure to check out some of our other helpful articles!