How important is a cover letter when you're applying for jobs?
Sometimes cover letters are neither required, nor desired. At other times, they are a prerequisite for getting your foot in the door. How do you know what's right for your particular situation, or even what's required?
When companies are recruiting on-line, they will often state that they don't want cover letters (or won't provide you with an opportunity to submit one). In this case, it's not worth your time trying to get additional information to the attention of the organization. Companies engaged in this kind of recruiting are usually using electronic means to identify key skills or job titles. You will get screened out unless your rèsumè exactly matches the job qualifications.
Fortunately, few companies rely exclusively on electronic rèsumè review--particularly for higher-level jobs. Therefore, you will usually have the opportunity to submit a cover letter to make your case. No longer is a cover letter simply a letter that says that you're applying for a specific job and enclosing a rèsumè. It has become a critical part of your own personal marketing strategy.
What makes a terrific cover letter?
A quick search on Amazon.com reveals 312 books that include cover letters in their titles or contents. Essentially, a good cover letter has four parts: what you're applying for and how you found out about the position; why you want this job, at this time, in this organization; what you have to offer; and the next steps to take, i.e., you'd like to set up a time for an interview; you'll follow up; how they can contact you.
The most important thing to remember is the difference between a rèsumè and a cover letter: a rèsumè tells what you've accomplished; a cover letter connects what's in your rèsumè to the requirements of the job for which you're applying and to your motivation for wanting that job.