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I have read and heard this statement from time to time but my work with clients tells a different story. More and more employers ask for cover letters to accompany candidate applications, even for blue-collar positions. I write cover letters as a matter of course because there is often no better way to differentiate a candidate from the hundreds—or thousands—of potential job seekers applying for a coveted position, particularly in fields where there are many candidates (like marketing for example).

Will every employer request a cover letter? No. Should you always be prepared with a cover letter if one is required? Absolutely! If an employer has reviewed your resume and decided against you, the chances your cover letter will be read are slim. However, if your resume makes the cut, you can bet a recruiter will read your entire cover letter to find out more about you. And sometimes the cover letter is read first, because communication skills are one of today’s most desired functional skills.

Part of your duty as a job seeker is to be prepared. The last thing you want to do is let an opportunity pass you by because you are not ready with an up-to-date resume and cover letter. If you are e-mailing your resume, always include your cover letter as an attachment or copy the text of the letter into your email message. Why lose the opportunity to provide a prospective employer more information and insight into who you are, how you approach your work and the distinct value you offer?

When you’ve been impacted by difficult life situations that have caused an interruption in your career (but are difficult or impossible to explain on a resume), you can use a cover letter to explain mitigating circumstances in your work history. Taking the time to tell an employer briefly that you’ve dealt with tragedy and are ready to return to work may well be the deciding factor in an employer’s decision to grant you an interview.

Keep in mind that your cover letter needs to be error-free, of appropriate length (not too short and not too long), interesting, relevant and professional. You don’t want your cover letter to do more harm than good, so do your homework to assure that you represent yourself well. Just like a resume, your cover letter may provide an employer that critical first impression of you, and it WILL be read if there is serious interest in you.

Ellie Vargo, MRW, CCMC