When Do You Need a Cover Letter?

Cover Your Bases

If you think all you need to find a job is a resume, you don't have all your bases covered. You also need a cover letter.

 Just think of your well-developed resume and cover letter as your marketing team. They represent you when you can't be there in person. Put some time and effort into developing these career tools, and your job search story should have a happy ending.

Dick Bolles is the author of What Color Is Your Parachute? Bolles offers this advice: "Remember that job hunting is a repetitive experience throughout your life. If you take the time to master it now and do this job hunt well, it will pay you dividends the rest of your life."

Why Send a Cover Letter?

A well-written cover letter, backed by a resume, is your chance to introduce yourself to a prospective employer. It gives you the chance to share your qualifications and state how you might benefit their business.

Sandra Podesta is the co-author of 201 Killer Cover Letters. "A well-written cover letter...can introduce the real person to the reader by demonstrating personality, characteristics, unusual traits or strengths," she says.

When Cover Letters are Vital

Never send your resume to a potential employer without a cover letter. If you are responding to a job ad or contacting an employer that you would like to work for, use a cover letter to emphasize your experience or education -- or both!

Matthew Rankin is a career information officer at Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC). "The cover letter is essential because it is your sales pitch," he says. "In many cases, employers place more stock in a cover letter than in a resume."

When responding to an ad, you need to set your resume apart from the competition. A well-written cover letter is your way to do that.

"It also gives the writer the opportunity to direct the reader to relevant information, skills [and] accomplishments in the resume," says Podesta.

For these same reasons, the cover letter is vital if you're sending your resume to a cold contact. (A cold contact is an unfamiliar employer that has no advertised job openings. It's common for people to send a resume and cover letter to cold contacts they'd like to work for.)

"Even if you have arranged an interview through networking, you should still send a resume ahead of time -- along with a well-written cover letter that directs the reader's attention to the points on which you want your interviewer to focus," adds Podesta.

E-mail or Fax?

A cover letter must accompany your resume, no matter the mode of distribution.

"Always introduce your resume with a cover letter, whether using e-mail, snail mail or fax," says Podesta.

When sending it electronically, your cover letter should be included with your resume. You can include it in the body of the e-mail or send it as an attachment.

"However, e-mail letters often require special formatting," says Podesta.

Don't miss a chance to show what you have to offer.

The Exceptions

Bolles states he believes there are particular situations in which you really don't have to use a cover letter.

"A cover letter is only necessary if it's accompanying a resume," says Bolles. "And a resume is not the only way...to approach a place that interests you.

Bolles gives this example: "Well, let's say I'm well-acquainted with the owner of some local business. He's looking for someone to work for him. I'm looking for just that kind of job. So, I go over there and tell him this. No cover letter is necessary."

It takes a lot of work to get work. But taking the time to write a personalized cover letter every time you send out a resume is a good investment in your career goals.


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