Career Advice

Cover Letter: Must-Have or Has-Been?

By Elizabeth Heubeck — January 29, 2024 4 min read
Illustration of a gray folder with a professionally formatted cover letter on top and a blue pen laying on top.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

For decades, the cover letter has been considered a requisite part of any job application. In just one page, it can provide information about an applicant beyond the resume’s brief, bulleted list of job experiences and degrees earned. It might highlight a specific passion or specialized skills that could launch a job candidate to the top of the short list of applications pulled for an interview.

But the cover letter’s significance appears to be waning both inside and outside of education.

Just 26 percent of U.S. recruiters said they considered cover letters important in the hiring process, according to the 2017 Job Seeker Nation Study. And that was before the pandemic, the widespread introduction of artificial intelligence, and the near-universal use of online job submission platforms—all of which have had an impact on the way recruiters evaluate job applications.

Does this mean that K-12 job seekers can forgo crafting a cover letter to submit with their application this coming recruitment season?

As with so many aspects of the job application process, it’s not that straightforward. Whether or not to submit a cover letter appears to depend on a lot of factors—from the job you’re applying for, to the application process, to whom you ask. Here’s what the experts said.

Why demand is down: the pandemic, online apps, and hiring demands

Yvette Lee, knowledge adviser for the Society for Human Resource Management, believes that the COVID-era job market with plentiful openings but limited applicants hastened the cover letter’s demise.

“It made employers reevaluate everything, including how to attract a greater pool of job seekers,” she said. “When there was a rush to try to fill positions, that probably had an impact.”

Dropping the cover letter requirement was one way to streamline the application process and get more people in the door quickly, Lee said.

Glenda Henkel, associate director for career education at Towson University, which produces many of Maryland’s teachers, agrees.

“The need [for teachers] has been so great that our students are being recruited so immediately and directly—they’re getting interviews and offers before they even finish their teaching internships,” she said.

For entry-level teachers-in-training applying to a school district through a centralized system, she added, a cover letter generally is not expected or required.

That’s the case in Knox County Schools in Knoxville, Tenn., a district that fills between 400 and 450 teaching positions annually. But the district sees more cover letters from first-time applicants straight out of college than veteran teachers.

Alex Moseman, Knox County’s executive director of human resources talent acquisition, said the district receives 100 percent of its job applications online. And while candidates have an opportunity to upload a cover letter, there’s no specific prompt to do so.

But, Moseman said, many first-time teachers do voluntarily submit one. Sixty to 70 percent of first-time teachers coming straight from undergraduate programs submit a cover letter, compared with only 10 to 15 percent of more experienced teachers.

Recruiters are more likely to request cover letters for leadership positions

Henkel said that while new teachers may not be expected to present cover letters, candidates looking for more senior positions should plan to write them. Applicants for leadership positions will want to convey how their experience, philosophy, and approach will meld with those at the institution or district where they’re applying, Henkel explained.

“These are different roles, with different preparation,” she said. “For these, a cover letter would be more appropriate and probably expected.”

In Knox County, there’s a multi-pronged application process for candidates seeking assistant principal or principal positions that provides an opportunity for both written and verbal input beyond the cover letter.

The district shares a video with candidates that briefly introduces the district’s four main priority areas: excellence in foundational skills, great educators in every school, career empowerment and preparation, and success for every student. It then asks candidates to prepare and submit a written response based on the following two prompts: “In reflecting on your leadership experience, what is one priority you feel is a strength for your school?” and “In reflecting on your leadership experience, what is one priority area where you anticipate needing additional support?”

Candidates also are asked to record a verbal response to the following prompt: “As you consider joining the Knox County School team, which of the four priorities is most exciting to you?”

The case for, and against, cover letters

Sometimes, cover letters are irrelevant, or worse, said Lee, of the Society for Human Resource Management.

“In some cases, recruiters don’t read cover letters,” she said. Further, poorly written cover letters can count against a candidate, Lee pointed out.

Moseman said that the cover letters he sees typically are not specific enough to be particularly helpful. This concern may increase as more job applicants turn to artificial intelligence to generate mandatory cover letters, which could raise a whole new set of questions. “Employers will be wondering if this person has in fact generated this letter personally, or has had assistance,” Henkel said.

Negatives aside, Henkel, from Towson University, believes that cover letters still have a role in the job application process.

“I feel strongly about the well-written cover letter,” she said. “In many searches I’ve been involved in, candidates may not have looked like the best fit on their resume, but I have rallied for them based on a good, strong cover letter. And in the end, some have turned out to be excellent employees.”


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Career Advice Is That Teaching Job Right for You? Red Flags to Look Out For
Signs to look for and questions to ask before you say yes.
5 min read
Illustration of applicant profiles.
Career Advice Relocating for a Teaching Job: What to Know Before You Take the Gig
Double check the cost of living, assess the cultural fit, review teacher licensing rules, and see how you can become part of the community.

5 min read
Illustration of a female carrying moving boxes.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Career Advice Thinking of Becoming an Administrator? First, Consider These 4 Things
Teachers who stayed in the classroom and those who left share their perspectives on making the leap from teaching to administration.
5 min read
A woman thinks about a choice between 2 options.
Denis Novikov/iStock
Career Advice 5 Essential Questions Teachers Should Ask During Job Interviews
When being interviewed for a teaching job, it's as important to ask questions as to answer them. Here are 5 key questions to start you off.
5 min read
Woman being interviewed remotely.