With graduation comes the humbling, daunting grind of applying for gainful employment — unless that surprise trust fund or “modeling scout’s” number plays out. Resumes will be tailored based on several things: your life as lived to now, the requirements of your field and basic proofreading and formatting. This is the fact-based presentation of self we all must provide.
The cover letter can and should be your chance to tell a riveting story about yourself. Your act one has been your life up to now. Your act two will be the moment your preparation sends you on this — your first true adult quest. Your act three will be the final conquest of internal/external conflict, with you either surpassing obstacles to retire in a sea of glory surrounded by loved ones and riches or being crushed by the grind of life into a small and sobbing mass in an alley somewhere.
Let’s focus on act two for now. The cover letter for all intents and purposes in your life right now is the most important rhetorical document you can write. In dialogue with your resume, it allows a cross-contextualization of who you are and who you want yourself to be.
First, for God’s sake, get the format and the proofreading right. Your full name, physical address (even if that will be your parents' basement for the foreseeable future), phone number and email are all required. It does not hurt to mention a personal branding website (not Facebook), provided it does not in any way include or reference the upside-down keg stand you did.
The above things are also required for your addressee: “To whom it may concern” or “Dear sir or madam” will not wash. For this document to be effective, it must be personal. That means doing your homework in advance. Find out exactly who will be in charge of at least filtering applicants, if not making the final decision, and appeal directly to that person.