Looking for a new job can be an overwhelming process. There is so much advice out there about how to write a resume, where to post it and how to interact with recruiters and hiring managers. One of the most hotly debated job search topics is whether or not you need a cover letter to send with your resume. A resume is absolutely necessary in the tech space. On your resume you want to highlight things that make you a highly marketable and attractive candidate to a prospective employer. There are many helpful posts about resumes out there, so there’s no need cover more resume info here. The focus of this article is to take a look at what a cover letter is, why it is used, and whether or not you need one as a tech professional.

What is a Cover letter?

In the process of looking for a new position, you will inevitably be submitting your resume to many organizations through email and online applications. In some cases, you will be required to submit a cover letter along with your resume. A cover letter is basically a billboard to sell yourself. Think of a cover letter as a 30,000 foot view of who you are and what you want to do. A good cover letter will explain why you are interested in the position, a short introduction and any key skills. That’s it, nothing more than a quick introduction and blurb about yourself.

When Do I Need a Cover letter?

You primarily need a cover letter when the position you are applying for requires one. If you have applied for positions in the cleared tech space in the past or are in the process of it now, you can see how having a cover letter for each and every application can get pretty tedious.  A good cover letter cannot be rote or canned; it needs to be tailored to the position you are applying for. If your resume contains major gaps in employment or man short time period jobs, this is where a cover letter can come in handy to help explain those items. A cover letter also greatly helps to prepare both yourself and the recruiter/hiring manager for an in-person interview with you. Anything in your resume or application that would throw up a red flag, should be highlighted in your cover letter. Another situation that calls for a cover letter included with your resume is when you are embarking on a complete career change. If you have been a SQL developer for the past 12 years and you are applying for a job as a graphic designer, utilize a cover letter to explain this.

When I Don’t Need a Cover letter?

Aside from the few situations listed above, as a seasoned tech professional, you don’t need a cover letter. When you have been working in the IT career field for 20+ years and you are applying for a very similar job with another organization, there is no need to spend the time and effort to create a cover letter with info that is easily found on your resume and experience that is very straightforward. In the cleared IT community both the recruiter and the candidate both know exactly what they are looking for. Due to the sheer volume of cleared jobs, especially in the DC Metro area, recruiters just do not have the time to wade through both resumes and letters of potential candidates.

Writing a Good cover letter

If you find yourself in the camp of needing a letter for the position you are applying for, then here are some tips on building a good letter that will stand out among the rest.  There is not an official template or format for a good letter, but there are some things that need to be included. Where positions are requiring cover letters with your resume, they will look at the letter and it will determine if they need to look at the resume at all. A successful cover letter will have a professional introduction such as “To Whom It May Concern:” or “To the Prospective Hiring Manager:” Include your name, phone number and email address even though it will be on your resume. After all, if your cover letter is amazing, the recruiter will likely call you immediately to set up a phone screen. In the body of your letter, include relevant work experience that applies to the position you are applying for. A cover letter is meant to be a first impression; if it is not professional or comes across as canned, then it will likely get put at the bottom of the pile.

It Won’t Hurt to Have One Ready

Just to be prepared, it can’t hurt to have a cover letter ready in case you need it. Again, do not let it come across as a canned response.  It is ok to have a form letter ready that you can tweak to suit the needs of the position you hope to get hired for. Take the time and market yourself with a good cover letter, however that is only if you feel you really need one. In my 20+ years of IT work, I can only recall writing one. Take stock of your situation and decide what works for you. Good luck!

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Greg Stuart is the owner and editor of vDestination.com. He's been a VMware vExpert every year since 2011. Greg enjoys spending time with his wife and 3 kids. He has 20 years of IT experience and currently works as an IT Consultant both in the private and public sector. Greg holds a BS in Information Technology and an MBA degree. He currently resides in Southeast Idaho. You can follow him on Twitter @vDestination, read his blog (vDestination.com) and listen to his podcast (vDestination.com/feed/podcast).