“I can’t understand why I didn’t get the job. I included a cover letter, didn’t I?”
If this sounds like you, first off - congrats. You included a cover letter! That’s heads and shoulders above some of your competitors, sadly enough. With so many using Indeed’s ‘Easily Apply’ feature which allows you to attach your resume and apply in two clicks, or messaging employers directly on Facebook, you figure you must stand out from the crowd, right?
Well, not really.
Unless you’re applying to the local A&W (and even then…) a cover letter is essential; especially for more competitive positions, or for companies headed by a Generation X-er (ie. most of them). It has become standard practice, expected even, to include a cover letter with your resume, online or in print. Moreover, failing to do so is a huge detriment to your application, and not just in the way of etiquette.
The cover letter is your chance to emphasize your interest in and aptitude for the position, and to clear up any gaps or inconsistencies in your resume. For instance, if you figure your prospective employer may question the gaping hole in your work experience between 2013-14, you can use part of the cover letter to describe your backpacking trip through Bali, and how what you learned might be useful in the proffered position.
Consider it like a pre-interview: your employer has asked why you want the job, and you get the chance to plead your case, and distinguish yourself from other candidates. Maybe establish a prior connection (“as an alum of this esteemed institution…”), or explain why you’d be a good fit, and show your familiarity with the company (“like the customers of Mattress Mattress, I also enjoy a good snooze”).
Make it your own, and please (please!) tailor your cover letter, by making it different for each job you apply to - and not just by changing the addressee and date, mind you. Make sure that of all the numerous skills on your resume, you’ve highlighted the ones most relevant to this position in your cover letter - and feel free to thank us later.