To cover letter, or not to cover letter, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The writing, of your reasons to apply
Or to take Arms against a Document of difficulties.
Apologies to the Bard, but this is a topic I revisit pretty often because there are so many opinions out there that I feel it needs repeated addressing.
One of the bits of “advice” you will see floating around the interwebs is “nobody ever reads cover letters so they’re a complete waste of time.” And the thing is, that may be true, for that particular person, in that particular case. That is to say, some recruiters and hiring managers never even open the cover letter file. They don’t care what you’ve written, as long as your resume covers what they need and you interview well.
The problem, of course, is that those are not the only recruiters and hiring managers out there. Especially in fields in which your written communication is important, some people making hiring decisions will read the cover letter before anything else. Some will refuse to move you forward if you have grammar, spelling or punctuation errors, or if your syntax is confusing.
And, of course, we don’t necessarily know who the people are who are reviewing your application. And that means that, given a choice, you should really always default to writing a cover letter. Yes, it’s more work, but I always say it’s better to have some of your effort ignored than to have your entire application ignored because there was a crucial piece missing.
Many places will tell you what’s required and what’s optional in the application, but even if they say a letter isn’t a requirement, you can definitely win yourself some points by writing a good one.
And the worst that can happen is that someone ignores it.