As is often said, it's usually easier to get a new job when you already have one than when you're unemployed, especially if you've been out of the workforce for longer than a few months. Whether the circumstances of your current status were beyond your control or you voluntarily took a break to pursue other interests or attend to the needs of your family, there's often a concern that prospective bosses will view this gap in service as a reflection of your competence, commitment or ability to work well with others. A well conceived cover letter can assuage these doubts and make employers receptive to an interview to learn more.
Identify the position to which you are applying in a subject line at the top of your letter, under the addresses, date, and salutation. If your letter isn't in response to a specific opening, substitute the subject line for a brief statement regarding the type of employment opportunity you're seeking.
Demonstrate your knowledge of the company's products, services and vision. Research the company on its website, in newspapers and trade journals and through conversations with people who already work there or are current customers/clients. Express your interest in contributing to this workplace environment as well as the confidence that your skill set represents a unique match.
Summarize your employment qualifications, academic background, and notable accomplishments in the second paragraph without lifting verbatim content from your resume. Like your CV, a cover letter that's meant to account for gaps in your employment history provides a functional--rather than chronological--review of your experience. This cumulative paragraph is also where you'll provide a brief explanation of your job hiatus. Examples of acceptable excuses include continuing education, military service, raising a family, recovery from accident or illness, caring for a family member and relocation to a new community.
Articulate what you have been doing to ready yourself for reentering the workforce. Examples include learning new job skills and/or foreign languages, mentoring others, volunteering with nonprofit organizations, taking classes and workshops, job shadowing and internships. For homemakers, address all of the activities that are applicable to the workforce. Examples include delegating, mediating, budgeting, planning, maintaining inventories, multitasking, organizing, decision-making and crisis management.
Identify a specific call for action in the closing paragraph. Request an interview at the reader's earliest convenience after she has had an opportunity to review your resume. If the purpose of your letter is to troll for information about future openings, inquire whether the recipient could provide you with advice on how best to prepare yourself for consideration or refer you to an associate who is currently in the market for someone with your expertise. Show your initiative by letting the reader know you will be following up the next week with a phone call. Always close your letter by thanking the reader for her time.
Keep your cover letter to one page. Proofread your letter thoroughly before sending it out. If you were referred to the recipient by a mutual acquaintance or a current or former employee of the company, don't be shy about dropping her name in your opening paragraph.
Never whine, plead or ascribe blame in your cover letter. What employers look for is someone with a positive attitude who is enthusiastic about moving forward, not someone who will dwell on the past.