In preparing a cover letter to accompany a resume, you need to do a little research on the company you would like to join.  You need to know where to send your resume and to whom.  This cancels out the need for the too general “To whom it may concern” salutation.  Now you can start your letter with Attention: (insert name here).  This makes the letter more personal and more likely to be read.

Next you need to request that they read the enclosed resume and consider you as a candidate for the position referenced.  You can also add in how you found out about the opportunity as in “…as advertised in the National Post, August 31, 2010.”  (If you are hoping your current boss doesn’t find out, you can ask them to please keep it confidential.)

Now is usually a good time to describe what you are currently doing and why you are contacting them.  If you are not currently working you can just tell them why you would like to work for their company.  For example, “I have read great things about (company name) and would be very excited to be a part of this Fortune 500 Company.”  This doesn’t have to be too detailed, just enough to make them feel special but don’t sound too desperate.

Then you should give them a little background on your qualifications and experience tailored to fit the position in question.  Pull out whatever skills you can from previous experience and don’t forget volunteer work or student groups.  If you’ve done something you think would help you perform this job, mention it.  But remember you’ll have to back it up at the interview so don’t embellish too much.  The goal is to interest them enough to get the interview.

Now you have them hooked, tell them you are looking forward to hearing from them to discuss your qualifications.  Give them your phone number and email address and let them know when would be a good time to contact you.  Just finish it off with a good old “Sincerely yours” or something similar.  The important part is done but don’t forget your name (with your accreditations of course.  You’ve spent all that money on your education be proud of those letters!)

Above all be honest but be brief.  They’ve got a lot of other letters to read and they’ll appreciate you not wasting their time.  Try to say it all on one page.  Don’t say anything that can be construed as negative, just give them enough information so they’ll be interested in hearing more.  Then you can completely win them over during the interview. 

Remember, the resume is important but the cover letter also lets your future employer know that you are not a moron who just had a resume professionally done.  Of course if your cover letter is done by someone else than you’re  pretty much on your own for the interview.  No one really needs the added pressure of living up to a cover letter that is not their own.