Wondering Whether or Not to Include a Cover Letter?

Everyone knows you can’t apply for a job without some sort of resume.  But what about a cover letter?  As an employee of Rowland Mountain & Associates, I am involved in the initial screening process of candidates before I pass them along to the search associate on my team.  I have seen many cover letters, ranging from proficient to pointless.  There is less training on how to write an effective cover letter, and it is understandable why there is such a range in quality.  In hopes of providing some guidance, these are my 4 most important messages to convey about cover letters:
1)  Don’t send a cover letter if you’re not going to take the time to make sure it’s good.  A poor cover letter can actually work against you.  For example, if your resume or cover letter mention your excellent communication skills, your cover letter should NOT have grammatical and/or spelling errors (and it shouldn’t regardless of whether this is one of your highlighted skill sets or not).  This demonstrates that, in fact, you have poor communication skills.  Communication skills are not purely verbal, and in fact written communication skills are becoming increasingly more important with email taking over phone conversations in the work place.  A cover letter is a form of written communication, as is your resume.  Don’t shoot yourself in the foot before you have even had a chance to walk in the door.
2) Don’t send a cover letter if it isn’t a letter.  A cover letter should be formatted in business letter format.  This includes addressing the hiring manager/recruiter as “Dear so-and-so.”  If you do not have their name, improvise accordingly.  Do not send sentence-long cover letters.  These are surprisingly common, and to a recruiter say, “I don’t have the time to write you a cover letter because I’m applying for copious amounts of jobs and yours is not that important to me.”  I would actually rather have no cover letter than one this short.  Recruiters want to think that their job is the most important job on your radar.  Lead them to think that, even if it isn’t, if you want a shot at the job.
3) Include qualifications pertinent to the specific job you’re applying for.  A cover letter is a great way to sell yourself.  Don’t lose this opportunity to showcase why you’re a perfect fit for the job.  Most jobs will have a description of the general responsibilites of the position.  Find the ones that you know you have excelled at in the past and write about those.  If you have quantifiable results in those aspects, include them.  A cover letter is the next best thing to a first interview because you can tell the person in charge of hiring why you are the best candidate for the position.  A resume is merely a summary of your qualifications and experience; a cover letter is an influential tool that you can use to connect the dots a resume might fall short of.
4) Cover letters will not change whether or not you are qualified for a job.  No matter how amazing your cover letter is, if you simply do not have the experience necessary for the job it won’t get you an interview.  That being said, a great cover letter cannot hurt you!  It shows effort, and leads one to think you will provide that amount of effort in all things you do.  Perhaps that recruiter will hang onto your resume/cover letter in hopes another job will come along that you will be qualified for. 
Some recruiters don’t read cover letters, but even so if you are able to write a great cover letter then go ahead and send it.  You never know if you are applying for a job where the hiring personnel expect one! 
Martelle Warner
Marketing Associate, Rowland Mountain & Associates