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Career Hacker: Are IT cover letters necessary?

7/22/2014 | By Lisa Dare, TEKsystems Digital Content Strategist

male wearing a hat and bowtie sitting at typewriter with a glowing question mark

Many people wonder whether they need to submit a cover letter for an IT job. After all, information technology has more job openings than there are workers to fill them. This means that in many cases, you can safely skip the letter and save yourself a lot of time and work. But that doesn't hold true for every IT job, or every candidate.

These questions will help you determine if you need to submit a cover letter:

1. Does the job posting give any clues?

Read the posting details carefully; many times they’ll give a hint or outright directive. Are there specific directions for applying through an automated system or of documents to submit? Great; if the job posting says something like “submit a CV and three references” but doesn't specify a cover letter, then you can probably skip it.

2. Do you have something to prove? 

HR experts agree that someone applying for a stretch position or making the leap to a different field should never skip the cover letter. Use that space to explain how your interest and capabilities make you the perfect candidate if your resume doesn't make it obvious.

3. What does the position entail? 

If you’re looking at a highly technical role, hiring managers are much less likely to care about receiving a cover letter. However, if you are seeking a management position where you’ll lead a team or interact with people outside IT, you need to have excellent communication skills and knowledge of business etiquette—and a well-crafted cover letter will demonstrate both. Ditto if you’re looking at a position where you need to produce written documents. In addition, if you’re looking for a help desk position, a cover letter can show that you possess the communication skills needed for the position, as well as the enthusiastic attitude important for success in a customer service role.

4. How competitive is the job? 

Finally, if you’re competing against a lot of candidates for a position you really want, a great cover letter may be the edge you need. People screening resumes for a position with a lot of well-qualified applicants are looking for any reason to disqualify people to winnow the pool of contenders. Don’t let a lack of cover letter be the reason you’re eliminated.

After reading the questions, do you still think you need to submit a cover letter? Read next week’s Career Hacker to discover a simple formula for writing a cover letter that will keep you in the running. Or prepare for your next IT interview with some recent interview tips from someone who has coached hundreds of applicants: 

Unlock the mystery of the most dreaded interview question

Fresh tips for your next IT interview (includes a list of questions commonly asked in IT interviews)

Lisa Dare is a marketing writer for TEKsystems who enjoys learning about IT from some of the smartest folks in tech. A former HR staffer, Lisa frequently blogs about work-life balance and career advice.