There seems to be no consensus among job seekers regarding the use of a cover letter. We sometimes receive attachments that are multiple pages-long, whereas some applicants send their resumes without even as much as a sentence in either the body of the email or the subject line.
First of all, let me point out that different fields may have different requirements. In academia, for example, you are expected to attach a cover letter, including very specific points. However, we cater to the corporate world and my advice focuses on it.
It may seem obvious that when you are emailing your resume to a hiring manager, it makes sense to at least specify the position for which you would like to be considered. Nonetheless, I receive countless applications that contain no cover letter and not even one sentence in the email. To be quite honest with you, I do not even open the resumes of such candidates.
My recommendation would be to paste your cover letter in the actual body of your email. If it is well written and includes relevant buzz words, your application will automatically catch the attention of the person reading it. Instead of using general descriptors that could apply to anyone (eg: read our post on “strengths and weaknesses”), be specific and write why you are interested in this particular position and what skills you have that match the requirements in the advertisement. Candidates often take the easy route of writing such commonalities as “I would be proud to join your reputable organization” or “I would be a great asset to your team”. Instead, I suggest researching the company by going to the “About Us” section of the web site and picking up some interesting facts.
If you are applying to an ad posted by a recruitment firm, you can focus on the requirements listed in the posting and outline how your skills could fulfill the client’s expectations.
As you know, first impressions count! With just a bit of research and by putting some thought into your cover letter, you can make a truly positive one.