Although I've written before about my opinion that in most cases it's not necessary to send cover letters with your resume or job application (Cover or Uncovered), I find that many people have an emotional attachment to sending one to express their desire for the position.
If you decide that a cover letter is necessary, it's important that you do it well!
In so many cases, when I see cover letters, they often do more harm than good because of the way they've been written. Here are some observations and some points that may help…
Never use a cover letter to say what should be in your resume. Often, job seekers don't tailor their resume for each job they apply to, but rather put the relevant skills and experience in their cover letter. Unfortunately, most recruiters and hiring managers never read cover letters at all. Regardless how effectively you may have articulated your match to the job in the cover letter, if no one reads it, it has zero impact. Your resume is the only document that you can be sure will be searched from their database, or read by a decision maker. Your resume has to be the primary document that connects the dots between their requirements and your experience. Never rely on a cover letter to do that for you!
Brevity is a virtue! That's true for resumes, emails, cover letters and any other written communication. Like it or not, most people scan, rather than thoroughly read most business communications. The same may be true for you at home. When you receive a number of emails and begin going through them, most people will look at it briefly to decide what they will do with it. If it looks like spam, it gets deleted quickly. If it's very lengthy, they may read the first line or so, and either postpone reading further until later, or decide they don't have the time to get to a long read at all so they move on. If, however, it's brief (2 or 3 short paragraphs), they often see it as something they can digest quickly and will read the whole thing. As a job seeker, you want to improve your chances of your cover letter getting read.
Short and sweet instead of long and challenging will win every time!
Less fluff! In order to keep it short and sweet, stick to the "dots"! When your resume and cover letter is reviewed, the biggest thing the decision maker is trying to determine is whether you have the background for the specific job. At this point of the process, they don't so much care yet about your philosophy in your career, your goals and objectives for your career, or even if you know a great deal about their organization. Initially, when deciding who to talk to further, they are determining who has the most relevant experience for this role. They are trying to connect the dots.
Your cover letter is most effective when you help them see the obvious fit between your background and their requirements. Your resume must do that as well, however, the cover letter can accentuate the direct connection. So the most effective cover letters are often the ones that briefly state something like…
The requirements listed for the position ask for 3 years experience with ______, _______, and ______ which I bring with 5 years of responsibility in those specific areas in my last role.
A statement like that emphasizes what they already see on your resume. It should never be a substitute for what they read in your resume.
If you decide that a cover letter is warranted in your situation, be sure it's effective and adds to your chances of getting a call. Keep it short and sweet!