One complaint that recruiters often express is that candidates don’t take the time to craft a unique cover letter to fit the job they are applying to. Instead, many job seekers apply using a generic cover letter, inserting the company name and job title into the appropriate blanks with a broad and general explanation of why they are a good fit for the role.
Crafting a unique cover letter for each job application takes time—time that, all too often, isn’t viewed as worthwhile. However, when you customize a cover letter, you can increase the odds that you land an interview, and decrease the time it takes you to find a new job.
12 Tips to Customize a Cover Letter
Customizing your cover letter for each application doesn’t mean you have to create a new cover letter from scratch for every opening. However, the more customized your cover letter is to the job, the better the chance a recruiter will want to continue onto your resume. Instead of applying to 10 jobs with a generic cover letter, you will have more success if you apply to five jobs with more personalized documents.
So, what can you do to customize a cover letter and make it unique for each job?
1. Check for Specific Instructions
There may be pertinent information that a recruiter wants right off the bat. Read the job posting carefully, so you know who to send your application to and what information you have to include in your cover letter. Not addressing these requests is a sure-fire way to land your application in the “no thanks” pile.
2. Don’t Repeat Your Resume
Although related, a cover letter and a resume are very different tools. In a resume, you list your accomplishments and state facts about your work history and education. A cover letter gives you the chance to sell yourself as the best candidate for a particular job.
Use your cover letter to clarify your resume, but don’t repeat it. Having the freedom to use complete sentences instead of bullet points lets you make a great impression and explain how your work experience uniquely qualifies you for the job.
3. Be Personal
In the past, cover letters often started with “To Whom It May Concern” or a similar generic greeting. Know who the hiring manager is and greet them using their first and last name—e.g., Mr. Tom Smith. Check the job posting, company website, or LinkedIn for a name. Reach out to your network and see if they know who the hiring manager is.
But, when in doubt because you can’t find a name, don’t use ‘Dear Sir or Madam,’ or ‘To Whom It May Concern.’ These phrases can sound dated, and they start your cover letter on a cold note. Instead, try a warmer but still professional opening:
- Dear Hiring Team at [Company Name]
- Hello, [Company Name] Marketing Team!
- Dear Finance Hiring Committee,
- Good Afternoon, Customer Service Hiring Team
- Dear Hiring Manager”
4. Do Some Detective Work
Before you even think about your cover letter, do some reconnaissance work. Understand what the company does, what the company culture is like, and the key characteristics of the job you are applying for.
Review the company’s website, then explain (briefly!) why you are interested in working for them. Is it their mission statement? Their community involvement? The impact their products make on the world? Help the hiring manager understand what it is about the company and role that excites you and inspired you to apply.
5. Keep It Short, but Not Too Short!
It’s easy to get carried away, especially when you’re excited about the job. But, hiring managers are busy, and you don’t want them to view reading your cover letter as a chore.
As a rule, your cover letter should be no longer than one page, so make every word count! Avoid repeating yourself or restating your resume, and make sure you stay on topic (explain why you’re a great fit for the role, not what your Great-Aunt Sally thinks about the company).
On the flip side, don’t write a cover letter that says, “Here’s my resume. Thanks.” Not only do you run the risk that the hiring manager thinks you can’t be bothered with creating any cover letter, but they may also think that you don’t know how to write a proper cover letter, or have poor writing skills.
6. Highlight Your Qualifications for the Job
Write several lines that speak directly to some of the main qualifications outlined in the job description. Matching those to your previous experience can be a quick and clear way to show that you are the perfect fit for the job.
Some employers will separate your cover letter from your resume and have different hiring managers look at the different pieces. If you tailor your cover letter to discuss how your past experience or education is perfect for their current opening, you can highlight both your personality and skill set.
7. Explain the Benefits of Hiring You
Although you don’t want to come across as bragging, your cover letter is not the place to be shy. Your cover letter should clearly explain why the hiring manager should schedule you for an interview.
Explain how your work will specifically benefit the company. If you have trouble writing great things about yourself, try using someone else’s perspective and write from their point of view. What would a mentor, friend, or previous employers say about you?
8. Talk About Your Passion for the Job
Every employer wants to see that their potential employees are dedicated to the company 110%. Clearly explain why you are passionate and excited about the job, and give them a sense of who you are and why you’re the right new hire. Can you help them solve a problem? Fill a need? Why do you want this job?
When you talk about your passion for the job, you want to envision yourself doing the job to the best of your ability and communicate this to the employer. If you can see yourself as a perfect match, the employer is more likely to agree with you and will be intrigued to speak with you further about working with their company.
9. Connect the Dots
Sometimes your skills and experience aren’t an “obvious” match for the role, particularly if you’re changing careers. Most recruiters don’t have time to figure out how your skills transfer from one job to the next, so you’ll have to make the connection for them.
Clearly illustrate how your “non-traditional” career path or educational background makes you the perfect candidate for the job. Not only will this help the hiring manager picture you in the role, it demonstrates that you’re aware you’re not the “easy” choice and that you are making an intentional career change (as opposed to applying to any and every job out there).
10. Proofread, Proofread, Proofread
Not to overstate the obvious, but your (not “you’re”) finished cover letter must be error-free. It would be a shame to have your application land in the “no” pile over a typo. Your points should be simple and concise, your contact information must be correct, and everything should be spelled correctly!
11. Ask for Second Opinions
Before submitting your cover letter, have someone read it, and honestly answer whether it sells you as the best person for the job. Unless their answer is a resounding “yes,” go back and revise it.
12. Don’t Oversell Your Skills
When tailoring your cover letters to each specific job, you only want to state what is true about your professional and educational history.
If you find that a job description has keywords like “PC and Mac proficiency,” but you’ve only ever worked on a PC, don’t stretch the truth and say you’re proficient in both. To recruiters, the only thing worse than generic cover letters and typos is applicants who don’t tell the truth. So, rather than overstate your skill set, highlight your related skills and experience. Then, to sweeten the deal, provide employers with a sample of your work through a personal website or portfolio.
Successfully Customizing Your Cover Letter
One last parting tip: Use genuine, honest language. Your cover letter gives you a chance to convey your personality and to let the hiring manager get to know you through your writing.
It takes a little extra effort to create a custom cover letter for every position you apply to. But, taking the time to write a cover letter that demonstrates to the hiring manager why you’re the right candidate for the role will save you a lot of time in your job search, connecting you to your new job in no time.
Need some assistance customizing your cover letter? Meet with one of our career coaches. They can help you come up with the best strategies for creating custom cover letters that really shine!
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