I don’t believe that job seekers should use cover letters.
In a nutshell, I think that if you have to spend all this time composing the best-written, most persuasive cover letter ever written, you don’t know the recipient well enough to be sending her your resume.
When companies ask you to send a resume and a cover letter, it’s usually in the context of a job requisition that is posted online. In this job market, said posting is sure to get at least two hundred responses that will inevitably sit in an HR staffer’s inbox and may or may not receive even a cursory glance.
Don’t think that you will beat the odds. Instead, you have to circumvent the application process by establishing relationships with individuals already working inside the company. The first step is to ask everyone you talk to if they know someone at your target company. The contact need not be a senior executive or hiring manager – anyone in a department similar to yours will do. If you can’t locate anyone with a friend or family member working at the company, dig a little deeper. Search LinkedIn and look through the membership directories of third-party trade associations in your industry.
If you’ve found a name, but not a corresponding e-mail, check the company website or call reception to get the format for e-mail addresses at that organization – it’s usually email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com.
Write a short, cordial message and ask for what you want up front, which should be an informational interview to talk about how that person got to where they are in their career and what advice they might have. Do not ask them if they know of any job openings at this stage. Your goal should be to establish a one-on-one, personal relationship inside the company.
Will this approach get you a job right away? Probably not. Good networking requires patience, but it works, and candidates who have been introduced internally are far more likely to get interview requests and be considered for positions that don’t even make it to the job boards.