How to write a cover letter to get your foot in the door
Do I need a cover letter?
A lot of people will tell you that you don't need to include a cover letter with a resume submission. For the most part, this is untrue. If you are recruited for a job and specifically asked to apply with a resume, you can probably forgo the cover letter. They already know why you're applying: they asked you to! In just about all other circumstances, a cover letter is appropriate. If a resume is your foot in the door towards getting a job, a cover letter is your foot in the door towards getting your resume actually read.
What do I write in my cover letter?
Too many people get concerned with formatting and forget that the most important part of the cover letter is the content. You want to write about yourself, but not just in a general way. Your cover letter should be different for every single job you apply to.
When stating facts about yourself, like your previous job history, ALWAYS relate it to the position your are applying for and the company you are applying to. DON'T tell them how this job can help you, DO tell them how you can help their company. Let's say you're applying for a job at a bank. If you've got past experience at a bank, that will be noted in your resume, but you can also sneak that information into your cover letter in a more clever way. Instead of just saying you worked at a bank from 2002 - 2009, tell them what specific tasks you handled at your job. Perhaps you had experience with mortgages, or car loans, or business loans, etc. State how your prior experience can help them be more efficient and improve their bottom line.
The boring stuff: cover letter formatting and content
If you are submitting a cover letter online, ignore most formatting conventions. Just write the date at the top and remember to paragraph properly. If you are submitting a paper cover letter, write your name and address in the top right about 4 lines from the top. 4 lines down from that enter the date on the left. 4 lines down from that enter the name of the person at the company you are submitting the letter to and the address of the company. Always attempt to write to a specific person at the company, not just sir/madam.
In your first paragraph, state why you are writing your letter. "I think I am a perfect fit for (enter position) at (enter company)." You can also say something complementary about the company here, but don't sweeten it up too much.
The second paragraph will match your skills with the skills required for the position. If you have prior experience at a similar position this will be simple. If not, you're going to have to take a hard look at what skill you have so you can relate that to the prospective employer.
In the next paragraph you can talk about the company's goals, which might include increasing their bottom line, adding new customers, etc, and connect those goals to your specific skills.
The final paragraph should point the employer to your enclosed resume. You should also tell them that you'll contact them at a certain time and discuss the position in more detail. Make sure to follow through on this. Finally, thank the employer for taking the time to read your letter.
Print your name at the bottom and sign it in pen.