Drafting a cover letter may feel like a daunting task, but it's an important part of your job search. Find out how to write a letter that will get you an interview - and a job.

Include key messages

"A cover letter gets the person to read on to the next page - your résumé," says Peter Schuman, co-founder of The Eternal Optimist Résumé Service in the Twin Cities.

"Your cover letter paints a picture for the hiring manager," explains Schuman. "It has to get two main messages across - your enthusiasm for doing the job and the value you can provide the company."

Do your research

Writing a convincing cover letter requires you to know your audience. Schuman suggests calling the organization's human resources department to ask for the hiring manager's name and a job description unless the job posting specifically tells candidates not to do so.

Visit the organization's website to get a feel for the company's writing style and philosophy. You can also research the organization on Hoovers.com or in the business reference section of your library.

Organize your letter

Your first paragraph should be used to introduce yourself, express interest in the company and the position and summarize how you can contribute. If you were referred to the hiring manager, mention that in your introductory paragraph.

"Next, give evidence of your value," advises Schuman. "Include your most relevant skills, knowledge and experience, and tie everything back to specific qualifications and job duties." Provide examples of successful projects you've led or goals you've met.

You may also be asked to provide a salary history or salary requirements. Be specific about your salary history; it's fine to give a range for the salary requirements.

Avoid unnecessary information

It's important to avoid including information that doesn't support your application, such as hobbies, political affiliation, religion, etc. And most important, "never talk about what you can't do," advises Schuman.

Close with confidence

As you close your letter, Schuman suggests repeating your interest and thanking them. Say that you look forward to discussing how you can contribute and close professionally with "Sincerely," or "Regards." Be sure to proofread your letter several times and ask a friend to review it for you so that it's flawless before you send it.

Kelly Burkart is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer.