They say that the purpose of a resume is to show that you are qualified for the job, and the purpose of the cover letter is to show them that you want the job. For the most part this is very true. However, when the job market is as hostile as it is right now, you may want to customize your resume for every single prospective employer.
“But isn’t changing your resume cheating?” you might ask? Not really. As long as you don’t lie on your resume, there’s no rule that you need to send the same resume to that new Dot-com as you would send to the local Fortune 500.
What should change from resume to resume? For each job description, you should look at your job history and decide what jobs from the past make you most qualified for the prospective job. You should put extra emphasis on the descriptions of these past jobs pointing out what you accomplished while working there. Likewise for past jobs that in no way relate to the prospective job, list the job and any accomplishments that speak to your overall strengths.
What should stay the same from resume to resume? Keep the list of past employers constant from resume to resume. You don’t want to leave off jobs that you have had because that would create holes in your resume. Plus, if your prospective employer should ever stumble upon one of your alternate resumes you don’t want any contradictions.
Should I change the format of my resume? Possibly. If you are going from a healthcare industry into teaching, for example, your prospective employer will be more interested in what you can do versus what you did. In this case, you may want to split from the traditional Chronological resume to a functional one. According to Thedamngoodresume.com, “The Chronological format is widely preferred by employers, and works well if you’re staying in the same field (especially if you’ve been upwardly-mobile). Only use a Functional format if you’re changing fields, and you’re sure a skills-oriented format would show off your transferable skills to better advantage; and be sure to include a clear chronological work history!”
So do I still need a cover letter? Of course! If you have done your resume properly, you have conveyed why you fit the employers needs. Now you need to make the employer want you over everyone else that also fits those needs. You need to show your dedication, a bit of personality, desire, and drive. As the Evil HR Lady writes in her blog, The importance of Individualizing a Cover Letter, you have to make sure your cover letter does not come off as an anonymous mass mailing. Your cover letter needs to show that you are actually familiar with the company that you want a job with and really believe that you can fit into the culture of the company.