The purpose of a cover letter is to introduce yourself to a potential employer, express your interest in a specific job/position, and draw attention to your resume. Oftentimes the cover letter is the first form of contact between a potential employee and an employer; thus you want to be intentional in your approach and make a good impression. Ideally a well-crafted cover letter will motivate an employer to interview you. Similar to the resume, preparing a polished and well-written cover letter that accurately depicts your academic and professional strengths is in many ways an art. While you want to reveal aspects of your personality, doing so must be done within a generalized form and structure.
Although a resume is an essential first step in landing an interview, it means very little without a cover letter. Very few employers take the time to review a resume without a cover letter. Taking the initiate to create a cover letter demonstrates a variety of skills deemed highly by employers - organization, commitment to detail, integrity, and diligence. Given the competitive nature of every job market, it is advantageous to go above and beyond and write a cover letter.
Cover letters and resumes are crafted towards a particular job description or opening. The key responsibilities mentioned in the resume should also be mentioned in the cover letter. This provides the employer with clear repetition of the skills, experiences, and/or accomplishments that you are hoping to sell. Thus, a cover letter naturally focuses the resume to both the job and your specific skills.
In addition to adding focus to resumes, cover letters enable you to provide more detailed information than is permitted in the resume. Because resumes are short and structured, they offer limited amount of time and space to explain details. Employers often have lingering questions about the resumes, and these can be covered eloquently in the cover letter, preventing misunderstandings.
For example, if you took a few years off from work to stay at home with your children, this would appear simply as a gap on the resume, forcing employers to wonder needlessly about your span of unemployment. However, in a cover letter, you could explain why you took time off and integrate those experiences with your decision to re-enter the workforce. Similarly, if you changed careers, returned to school, or had to take a medical leave of absence, a cover letter invites you to include and angle those experiences in a way that intrigues employers.