Cover letters have their place, but are increasingly less used in the hiring process. Many recruiters simply say “Why bother?” People who receive hundreds of job application materials a day will skip right over the cover letter straight to the resume. They want to see the content and learn what you’re really about, not read through a sales pitch. Now that everything is submitted over email, cover letters appear to be of an older time, as the viewer will get two attachments and just click on the resume one. They end up separated from their resumes and are not even a consideration in the majority of interviews. If you make it part of the same document file as the resume or as the body of the text in the email with the attached resume, it might be briefly looked at as a quick introduction, but most likely the reader will just click and scroll on down to the content.
The main time a cover letter may be particularly useful is when it is being sent to someone who does not spend their entire day reviewing application materials. Therefore when used in a networking capacity, it can have some effect when formulated correctly. First of all, it must be customized and personalized. It must be sent specifically for that person and there must be a reason to for them to receive it so that you can capture their attention. Put the job title in the subject line so they immediately know why you are contacting them. Do some research to create a letter that will get you noticed. Also be sure that you are spelling their name and the company name correctly. Secondly, you need to get right to the point in the first line. If they see a block of writing, they’re not as apt to go through it. Make it incredibly neat, clean, sensible, and easy to read. You may even start with My experience doing X I feel positions me to do Y at your company and then immediately add bullet points. When somebody opens a cover letter and there are actually bullet points after the first introductory line, it’s very visually effective. The cover letter is another opportunity to make you stand apart from other potential candidates.