Is a cover letter required when applying for a job? Well, let's begin with the end in mind... what gets you hired? The interview, right? And how do you get the interview? Probably your resume. It's almost impossible to get called for an interview if you don't submit a resume. But what gets your resume read? The answer, of course, is a compelling cover letter.
Your cover letter must be compelling because it's a numbers game. It is so easy for candidates to respond to job postings today that the number of applicants for every posted position is overwhelming. Most resumes are never read by a human. They are glanced at, either online or hardcopy, and unless there is something that catches the interest of the reader, they are set aside. Since most resumes follow the same structure, they all look the same. The cover letter (or email cover) is your chance to be different, to say, "You need to read this one!"
Okay, no pressure. When you think about it in this context it can be very intimidating to write an effective cover letter. Actually most candidates touch up an existing resume, then anguish over their cover letters every time they submit their resume for an opening. Or, they take the easy approach and simply use a stock generic cover letter for every position they apply for. Neither approach is the "right" one. It shouldn't be so difficult to apply for an opening, but a good cover letter does need to be specifically targeted to the position for which you are applying if you want to maximize your call backs for interviews.
So, how do you easily write an effective cover letter? What is the right length... what's too much and what's too brief? There's a simple template that I recommend when applying for a job posting. I'll share the basics, and you can read more at my website.
Your cover letter should be concise and to-the-point, conversational in tone, but professional. It should highlight two or three compelling qualifications that you bring to the table, either significant accomplishments or skills and experiences that will be of interest. Your goal is to get the reader to look at your resume. If you do not have a solid cover letter or a good template that you can use, you will be at a disadvantage when you do see an opportunity worth considering. Writing a cover letter will be just one more obstacle, or you will do a lukewarm job of throwing something together, hoping it does the job. That is not going to get you a job. Consider using a resume writer to help you draft a cover letter or get your hands on some good examples or cover letter templates and do it yourself.
While your resume tells the story of your career in significant detail, try to highlight no more than two or three specific qualifications that make you a great choice for the position and company to which you are applying. Spend some time on the target company's website reading about their culture, their leadership team, and the things that make them unique. Make sure that you appear attractive to a hiring manager that has been a part of this company for some time. Leaders want to hire others that will fit in, that help grow the business or bring specific expertise to the team.
Close your cover letter with a call to action. Indicate what your next course of action will be... will you contact the manager in the next few days by email or phone? Be as assertive as you can but do remember, your resume and cover letter may not get read immediately. Give it a few days. And remember that it's a numbers game... no matter how unique you think your story is, everybody has one. So, set realistic expectations at the outset, accept all the help you can get, and don't give up!