Cover letters may seem like they're no longer relevant in a digital world, but they can be the perfect opportunity to customize your job application, show a little peronality and make a good first impression.

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We have reinvented a lot of everyday tools in the last 20 years or so. The growth of the Web has transformed business communication into the electronic transfer of data. Phones have become indispensable digital tools that have expanded the walls of today’s office and allowed us to work virtually anywhere. In their wake, formerly cutting edge tools such as the fax machine and the paper résumé have virtually disappeared from business.

Has the same thing happened to the résumé cover letter? In a world of casual emails and texts, does today’s job seeker really need to bother writing up a separate document that, in some ways, duplicates much of what’s already in the digital résumé?

I’ll answer this legitimate query by way of another question: Has the cell phone and the online job application replaced the smile and a handshake upon first meeting a new interviewer? Of course not. Humans have not (yet) devolved into robotic data ports that exchange information digitally, like so many server farms. We need to have a way to introduce ourselves in narrative form and grab the attention of the hiring manager at the most crucial time: usually the first point of contact.

Even if an employer doesn’t ask for one, write up a cover letter anyway, because it gives the job seeker the opportunity to:

Explain any potential résumé gaps. If you’ve been out of work for an extended period, a cover letter can be used to address what you’ve been doing with your time and how you’ve been keeping up with people in your industry.

Develop a rapport. This can be a chance to express a little of your individuality or personality. In a good cover, you have the chance to mention not just your qualifications, but also what first caught your eye about the job listing and why you want to work there, specifically.

Customize your application. While many companies and recruiters say they rely on LinkedIn to get a quick overview of your qualifications, a cover letter is your chance to make a direct connection with a hiring manager – something a static social media profile can never do. Try to briefly explain how your qualifications are suited to the job in particular, so that the cover letter and résumé can work together.

The cover letter is an old-fashioned idea that seems to have gone the way of the manila envelope and water-marked business stationery. It may now be little more than a couple of introductory paragraphs in an e-mail or a digital form, but a cover letter is still a vital way to get across the message “I’m the perfect, most enthusiastic person for this job” in the most efficient manner.

Randy Woods is a writer and editor in the Puget Sound business publishing arena and a veteran of the local job-search scene. Email him at