Contrary to the occasional rant about them, cover letters never go out of style. In fact, they should be considered one of the most important elements of the job seeking process. Unlike the resume, a rather cut and dried dissertation on your experience and training, the cover letter is your chance to convey more than simple experience. Understanding the important areas that need to be covered in a cover letter and the importance of creating unique letters for specific positions will allow you to take advantage of the strengths of the cover letter.
Length Matters
First, recognize the importance of appropriate formatting.  Cover letters that are too long will quickly loose the interest of the reader while those that are too short will not convey the necessary information.  Instead, be cognizant of the length and format of each cover letter.  Each cover letter should be no less than three paragraphs long and no more than one page long.  Not only is this length considered correct, it will allow you to appropriately address important areas adequately.

It Isn’t Your Resume
It is a mistake to simply use the cover letter to restate the facts that appear on a resume. Instead, the cover letter should be used to build interest–telling a little more about yourself and what you bring to the reader. An effective way to build interest is by expounding on an accomplishment that can be found in your resume. Instead of simply restating the accomplishment, give the prospective employer more details – details that will build interest in you.
Be Specific
Many make the mistake of creating a generalized cover letter.  Addressing a cover letter to the HR Department, utilizing generic job names and including general examples is a patently bad idea. Instead, take the time and do some research.  Even if you are sending a resume and cover letter to be filed for a later position, it is critical that it be addressed to the specific person in charge of hiring for that position.  Each resume that is sent out should include a cover letter that is specific for a particular job offering.
What’s Next
When concluding your cover letter, be sure to include your next step. You may want to inform the reader that you will call to confirm receipt in a week or let them know you will call to ensure they have all the information they need. Including a follow up action is the best way to ensure that your resume will be flagged for follow-up by the reader.
Cover letters are a good idea almost any time you are submitting your resume for review. There are a few distinct cases when a cover letter is not required.

  1. When the potential employer requests no cover letter be sent.
  2. When working with a headhunter.
  3. When using resumes at a job fair.

It is important that each cover letter be written with a specific job in mind. Carefully read and review not only job postings, but also any information that is available regarding the company to which you are applying. Doing so will allow you to craft a more effective cover letter – one that is more likely to generate a call back. You can tweak your main cover letter for different positions. Be sure and save each version with a different title so you can easily pull it up when a similar job position opens up.