On the final day of the NRWA conference, JIST author Louise Kursmark gave an outstanding presentation on the fundamentals of writing cover letters that get results. I'll share some of her copious tips here, seeing as how cover letters are such an important piece of the puzzle and I rarely mention them here.
For starters, she said the preferred method of transmitting a resume and cover letter via e-mail is to attach a Word document of your resume and put your cover letter in the body of the e-mail. If you're submitting your resume in a Web form on a resume bank or company database, look for a box in which to copy and paste your cover letter text.
A cover letter must be to-the-point and easily skimmable. It needs to include distinguished information about your career (without parroting your resume) and address the specific needs of the position for which you are applying. Hiring managers always want to see "what's in it for them" if they hire you.
Start with an opening paragraph that establishes who you are and why you are writing. Capture the reader's attention and make them want to read more by indicating your value.
Use the body of the cover letter to emphasize your greatest accomplishments, perhaps in just three bullet points, and drawing themes and trends from your resume. Incorporate keywords from the job posting and be sure to "write tight."
Close with other important information the reader needs to know, such as why you are considering this company and any other relevant personal information. Avoid cliches and an overly aggressive or passive call to action--stike a balance between "I'll be calling you Tuesday at 2pm to talk about this opportunity, so be ready" and "I look forward to hearing from you."
As icing on the cake, Louise suggests getting creative by adding visual interest (charts, graphs, tables) or an endorsement quote.
Do all these things and you will be well on your way to creating your own Cover Letter Magic!