When is a cover letter important?
The cover letter is the bridge between the resume and the job description. The worst cover letters are form letters turned up by a quick Google search, usually starting with, “I am the ideal candidate for the job because.” Please leave that line out; let the reader decide how good of a fit you are. The best cover letters fill in the gaps where appropriate, such as to explain:
1) A gap in employment. People always assume the worst – they literally may think you were in prison when you were really just backpacking around Europe. Call out the missing time if it is not obvious from your resume.
2) Not an exact fit with the requirements. Do they call for 5 years of Java experience, but you have 3 years… yet spent the 3 years before working in C++ or .NET? You likely have the skills to do the job. Never assume it will be the hiring manager reading the resume. It may be the new person in HR who has no tech background and is looking for people that check boxes. Leave no elephants in the room.
3) Not in the same city as the company. If you’re planning to relo, let the company know your timeframe and put their minds at ease that it’s no big deal. If you need relo assistance, well, honestly that may be a ding against you in the startup world. The Googles and the Facebooks of the world have it down to a science, but a 10 person company that doesn’t even have a receptionist may think it’s too much trouble.
4) You’re overqualified. Why is that such a bad thing? Companies see you as a flight risk. They think when the perfect opportunity presents itself, you may be out the door. If you have a compelling reason to take what some may see as a step down, call it out! Perhaps you are moving from a manager in marketing to an individual contributor in the sales org- but you know you need to have that foot soldier experience to later manage a sales org. Or, maybe you were a VP at a startup, and you realize that due to disparities in org size and responsibilities, actually the equivalent role in a bigger company may be director.
5) Why you want to work at the company. Don’t do any search and replaces. Take your time here. Research the company and the role. If you have a well thought out answer, you have a leg up on most people.