One of the first things an employer will see when they look at your resume is (hopefully) a cover letter. A cover letter can be the difference between someone flipping through a resume or pushing it aside. I never used to include cover letters with my resume, but I have since learned that they are an integral part of the application process. Many companies will ask for you to include one, but not all of them will specify whether or not you need it. I would say, be safe and include one either way. It can't hurt, right? So, let's break everything down!
Why include a cover letter?
Well, for one, a cover letter can show your writing ability. A cover letter shouldn't be a carbon copy of of your resume. In fact, it shouldn't include that much from what your resume already has in it. It should be used more to introduce your resume and explain to the employer what they are about to see. It can add a personal touch that a resume alone won't have.
What should it look like?
It should include the fact that you are enthusiastic about the job opportunity first and foremost. If you aren't excited to work for a company, then you probably shouldn't be applying in the first place. This is also a time when you can discuss your strengths that you can bring to the company if hired. You should also include a thank you, and informing the company that you will contact them in some amount of time (a week or so) to follow up on the resume.
What should you not do?
Don't use clichés. It may sound elegant, but if someone has said it multiple times before, it's not worth saying again. For instance, don't say things like, "If you hire me, you won't regret it". Once again, don't write what you already have in your resume. The cover letter should compliment your resume, not copy it. Don't write a generic cover letter. Make each one specific to the application. It will go further and show that you have actually done research on the job.
Click here for some good tips on cover letter writing, and even some samples of good cover letters!
What are your cover letter tips?