In a competitive job market, first impressions are important. Even before an interview is granted, the hiring manager has already started to form an opinion about you from your resume and cover letter. The cover letter is your first opportunity to make a favourable impression. If you are unable to make a strong impression from your cover letter and stand out from the crowd, it is not likely that you will be granted an interview.
Target your cover letter. When you are applying for many jobs it is easy to use a generic cover letter for all the positions you are applying for. However, if you want to stand out from all the other applicants you must take some time to target your cover letter. Include some information that indicates that you are specifically targeting this job. Do some research on the person receiving the cover letter and the company. Search for information from trade journals or by networking with other people familiar with the company. Look in areas beyond the annual report where every other applicant is looking.
Explain who you are and what position you are seeking. Briefly state your name and qualifications. Pick one strength or accomplishment to show how qualified you are for the position. Get to the point and let the person know why you are writing. If you have a recommendation or were referred by someone, make sure he knows right away so he keeps reading.
Communicate enthusiasm and state the reasons you are qualified for the position. State why you are so excited about the position and how well you will fit in. Make sure you read the job qualifications thoroughly and show in your cover letter that you can meet the qualifications.
Emphasise your strengths and achievements. Don't rehash your resume, but make sure you highlight the important points you want the employer to know about you in the cover letter. Relate your skills directly to the job requirements to show why you are a good fit for the position.
Indicate how you will follow up. Let the company know you will be following up soon either by a phone call or e-mail. Give sufficient time before attempting contact, and follow up in the time frame you indicated you would. A week should be sufficient. Be persistent about following up, but do not become an annoyance. The hiring person may not have had time to read your cover letter yet.
Be brief. Most likely there will be many cover letters received for each position. The hiring manager will likely skim quickly over each cover letter. Make sure there is something in your letter to catch the manager's attention and to keep him interested in you. Don't write more than a one page cover letter. The second page will not be read. Use good paper and make sure you spell the hiring manager's name correctly.
Be truthful with what you say in the cover letter. If you use a reference make sure he is aware of it. Don't drop a name just to impress the hiring manager. References will be checked. Check your cover letter for spelling and grammar mistakes.