Cover letters, I think, are wildly misunderstood. Like the resume, people tend to pack simply too much in, and too much of the wrong information.
A cover letter should be your elevator pitch.
It should efficiently communicate why you and you alone are the best fit for the job, and should elaborate on any critical, relevant skills you have that your resume doesn’t touch on or adequately explain. It’s great to talk about your passion a little, but passion itself should not be the sole content of your cover letter.
My favorite cover letter article is here: The 4 Paragraphs That Make a Killer Cover Letter
I like the structure it provides, because it gets you out of the “I’m-so-dedicated-and-passionate-about-this-entry-level-receptionist-position” zone (which we know is BS…even the hiring manager, for a lot of these, knows it’s BS) and into the real meat of the letter.
Whether or not you follow their outline, the important information is pretty simple:
1. Include who you are and which position you’re applying for.
This can be as simple as: My name is Lauren Scanlan, and I’m applying for the position of Entry-Level Data Analyst (job #10020). Including the exact job title and applicable job number, if one exists, will help the hiring manager easily find your resume in the miasma that is a corporate hiring database.
2. Include a quick reference to the company
This should be short — say why this particular company appeals to you (and though it may be true, “good benefits” is not an appropriate answer here). Have you followed them in the news? Studied their business model? Used their product? Mention your personal connection, and how you think you might be a good fit for the company. It doesn’t matter to them (yet) that the company is a good fit for you, so be sure you’re highlighting how you can help them here.
3. Why are you the one for this position?
This section should be the bulk of your letter, though it should be one paragraph at most. Don’t beat around the bush — tell the hiring manager loud and clear why you should be brought in for an interview. Do you have proficiency in Adobe Creative Cloud? Are you an expert in Ruby on Rails? Does your experience as a retail associate in a pet store give you an intimate knowledge of what pet owners are looking for in a dog toy or cat food? Whatever it is, be concrete, and don’t just repeat what’s in your resume: expand and include any information that’s pertinent but not well reflected in your resume. You can expand further in the interview, so keep it short, sweet, and to the very concrete point.
4. Include how you wish to be contacted.
Close with mentioning that you’d love to talk about how you’d be a great fit, and include your correct contact information and ways/times in which you prefer to be contacted.
Proof your work! Make sure your grammar is good and you don’t have obvious typos. Have a friend read for you, if grammar and spelling aren’t your strengths. This is, again, a document that you get unlimited amount of time to write (in their perspective) and that represents you, so make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.
No matter how you structure it, please remember to tailor your cover letter to each job you apply for. I know this is a ton of effort, but hiring managers can pretty easily tell who has put in the individual effort and who hasn’t. And remember to keep these updated right along with your resume!