A cover letter is the addition to a resume that puts your experience into a perspective for the job being filled.
Every time I mention what to include in a cover letter in this blog, some people scoff. Cover letter, they say, "I spit on your cover letter!"
But the truth is you have to have some way of introducing yourself that doesn't include bullet points. Even online programs that let you upload your resume offer a comment section for this. Whether it's a formal Word doc attachment or a couple of paragraphs in an online field, this is where you deliver your core message.
Think of it as being at a meet-and-greet where you are introducing yourself to a stranger. You wouldn't say, "Hi my name is Tom. From 1998-2005, I worked at XYZ industry. My responsibilities included the following..." (You might do that, but expect your listener to fall into a deep coma while you do so.)
Your cover letter or Comment section is the written form of an "elevator speech." I found a piece by Chris King called, "How to craft an effective elevator speech" that says to start crafting it by determining your niche market. Identify problem(s) that you can help solve and come up with a solution that is the outcome. What makes you unique? What short story illustrates a successful outcome that you have produced?
Keep the pitch/comment/cover letter relatively short but to the point.
Here are some more tips:
- Don’t repeat your resume word for word. Use the cover the letter to tell a compelling story about your accomplishments.
- Reference the job title. The person reading your letter might be looking at hundreds of letters for dozens of different jobs. Mention the specific job you’re applying for and make sure all the content in your letter supports how you will meet the employer's specific needs.
- Customize. You should try to customize your resume with each job you’re applying for. But if jobs are close enough in description where you can use the same resume, then you should definitely customize the cover letter.
- End your cover letter with an active statement. Instead of asking readers to call you, say you will follow up with them in a few days to answer any preliminary questions they may have.