Is a cover letter necessary?
Cover letters are not passe. The job of the cover letter is to get the employer/recruiter to read your resume. The job of the resume is to get you a job interview. The job interview is to get you a second interview and/or the job.
A cover letter should run to a few paragraphs and zero in on why your skills and experience match the job being advertised. Don't regurgitate your entire resume, just point out that you do have the specific skills and experience being sought. Try to mimic the words used in the job ad as much as possible.
Some applications are read by a software program rather than a person. In such cases, the program is looking for the keywords mentioned in the job ad. Using the same words as the ad will also get the attention of people reading your application.
Employers tend to rate cover letters more highly than recruiters - especially small business employers.
Some recruiters don't rate cover letters much at all but it is better to be safe than sorry. You can create a cover letter and resume within one document for the convenience of the employer/recruiter.
Just make sure you put your name and contact details (email and mobile) on every page to ensure that nothing goes missing when your document is printed.
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