Your cover letter is the first impression you make on a potential employer, so it's important to include only components that enhance your image and encourage the recipient to invite you for an interview. Instead of repeating what's in your resume, your cover letter should complement your resume, elaborating on specific skills or accomplishments that qualify you for the job you're applying for.
Why You're Applying
Indicate how you learned about the job or why you want to work for that company to set yourself apart from other candidates. If you're contacting the employer because a mutual acquaintance suggested it, mention that in your first paragraph. In her Forbes article "How to Write a Cover Letter," business writer Susan Adams describes a mutual connection as a "magic bullet" that immediately gets an employer's attention. You can also mention news coverage you've read about the company with a sentence such as "I've been following the expansion of Holloway Industries into the European market, and would enjoy a job where I can work with an international client base."
How You Fit the Job Requirements
Highlight your skills, qualifications and work experience relevant to the job you're applying for. If the employer wants your entire career history, he can look at your resume, so in your cover letter, focus on how you can fulfill the job duties. If you're responding to a job posting, demonstrate how you meet the requirements noted in the ad. Include anything related to the job's responsibilities, such as software programs you've mastered, management or leadership experience, foreign languages you speak or technical skills. Also include results you've produced at your previous jobs, such as the percentage by which you increased sales or reduced errors.
Request a Meeting
Close your letter by asking the recipient for an interview, emphasizing why you want to talk with her. Include a sentence such as, "I'm looking for a position that would take full advantage of my experience working with the public, and would enjoy learning more about your company's emphasis on customer service." Tell the employer how and when you'll contact her to make arrangements to meet, with a sentence such as "I'll call you on Monday to discuss a mutually convenient time to get together," or "I'm going to be in Chicago the week of April 1. I'd love to meet with you then to discuss opportunities with your organization."
What Not to Include
Career website WetFeet warns against including personal information such as your age, race, religion or marital status. It's illegal for employers to ask applicants about these details, and if your letter includes them, potential employers may discard your letter rather than take a chance on being accused of discrimination or unethical or illegal hiring. Don't mention why you left your last job, either, because your situation may be too difficult to clearly explain in a letter. Instead, wait until your interview, when you have more time to address the issue and respond to the employer's questions about why you left.