That’s the question consciously or unconsciously running through the mind of someone looking through a stack of resumes. That person will often not find the answer if there’s no cover letter from you. Resumes list the information about your skills and experience. Cover letters pinpoint why you should receive serious consideration for a particular job. A cover letter helps readers see how your experience relates specifically to what they are looking for in an employee. Instead of making readers interpret your resume, your cover letter does the work for them. A cover letter says, “I know your company and what it does. Here’s why you should take notice of my qualifications.”
The general manager of a water and power agency who does the hiring sums it up: “Outstanding letters summarize authors’ knowledge, skills, abilities, and specifically why they are interested in my organization. They summarize an understanding of how my recruitment process works and references their attached resumes, identifying sections that are responsive to a specific request for information that may have been included in my job announcement.”
A planning advisor for a huge oil corporation who scans hundreds of resumes a week looks at it this way: “The more someone can tell me what attracted him or her to my company, the better. I try to get a feel for whether the applicant is interested in our industry, which is sometimes clear in the resume and sometimes not. That is where a cover letter can make a difference. If I get 10 resumes with similar experience and skills, the cover letter prioritizes who I need to speak to. If the resume is strong, then I don’t need the cover letter, but lots of times resumes don’t answer the questions I have.”
Keep in mind that the people who read resumes and cover letters spend mere seconds on them. You could meet every requirement of the job you’re going for but unfortunately, your qualifications might be buried somewhere in your resume. The people who are considering you for a job don’t like to dig. Readers don’t want to search for your abilities among the various jobs you have held or experiences you list.
Resumes are a record of your past and current experience. A well thought-out cover letter selects only those skills and experiences that apply to a job description and company. It summarizes your qualifications for that particular job so the hiring manager doesn’t have to search for them on your resume. If your cover letter doesn’t showcase the main points of your resume that match their requirements, the hiring manager is more likely to move on to the next candidate. And in this job market, you don’t want that to happen.