EnvelopeTime and time again my clients ask me if a cover letter is really necessary and if anyone really reads them. I’ve surveyed HR professionals, recruiters and hiring managers and the answer is a resounding YES! Of course, the cover letter has to be good, a bad cover letter can land you at the back of the pack.

What makes a good cover letter? First and foremost, it needs to be tailored to the position you’re seeking. A form letter or template that doesn’t address qualifications required in the specific position will not get you the interview. The recipient wants to see that you’re interested enough in the position to make an effort to craft a letter specifically for them.

Perhaps changing the way you think about cover letters will help when you’re writing them. In today’s competitive market, approach your resume and cover letters like marketing tools. While the resume must contain certain information like your career history, you have freedom in your cover letter to highlight whatever you think will be appealing to your audience.

Treat the cover letter as your personal brochure or advertising. When you see an ad, they’re not telling you everything there is to know about a product, the advertisers are just focusing on the aspects of the product that will get your attention and get you to buy it. So too, should your cover letter.

This means, in addition to being targeted to your audience, your cover letter should market and highlight the best aspects of your skills, abilities and experience, focusing on your personal brand and how you can make a difference for the company you’re targeting. The cover letter is a chance for you to make a strong sales pitch that can separate you from other candidates who don’t want to take the time or make the effort.