Cover letters tend to be bland and generic, and it's rare to come across one that achieves a short, peppy, convincing sales pitch for the candidate. Writing is hard enough, and writing a sales pitch about yourself is even tougher.
But that's exactly what your cover letter should be. And if you can achieve that goal, yours is sure to stand out.
If you're a jobseeker with one objective in mind, the work experience on your resume is not likely to change with each application. What can and should change is the approach you use to introduce yourself to each employer.
Your cover letter should contain these elements: the specific job you are seeking and two or three reasons why you are the best candidate for it. Using your resume as inspiration (but avoiding the urge to copy directly from it), point out your strongest qualifications and how they will benefit the employer.
The cover letter is also an opportunity to bring attention to additional accomplishments that will interest the employer but may not be relevant
on the resume. For example: "Last year I reorganized the curriculum at my church's Sunday school."
Highlight one or two important points from your resume and, if possible, mention a mutual friend or business associate. Keep your letter to three or four short, meaningful paragraphs in a politely conversational (not cutesy) style.
Many jobseekers think generic cover letters will work for any potential employer. They won't. Don't even bother to send a cover letter unless you can draw attention to your qualifications as they relate to each employer's specific needs, and make a personal connection with the recruiter receiving it. Use your best phrases on more than one letter, but aim to customize each to a specific decision-maker at each company.
Research the Recruiter
If you can't think of anything to say in your cover letter, you have the same problem you had in junior high school when you couldn't compose three pages on bumblebees: You're trying to write without research. Go to the library and research the company through newspapers and trade journals. Talk to people to find out about the company, what it does, how successful it is, and who works there.
Your goal is to come up with one or two sentences that show your interest in the company. You should also look for names of department heads to whom you can address your resume and sparkling cover letter. Your research will help you again in the interview, when you'll be able to ask intelligent questions.
"I am in the process of seeking new career challenges and would like to explore opportunities within your organization. Of particular interest to me is a position that would represent a test to my administrative skills in management and in effectively dealing with others." This is how one jobseeker's cover letter began. Better to forego the padding for a more direct approach: "I am applying for the job of administrative officer."
Remember that the person reading your resume does not have x-ray vision. He or she is scanning for qualifications, so don't obsess about small employment lapses. Most of the time, only you notice them.
One jobseeker who switched from full-time to part-time teaching while
she was raising her children wanted to add a line about her children as a subtle way to explain why she hadn't pursued a full-time teaching position since she moved.
If you can, write something that leaves a pleasant, personable impression: "We met at the business expo last month," or even "My uncle Bob is your tailor." If your uncle is a darn good tailor, the reference might get you to the next level of the application process.