“Thanks for helping me customize my resume,” my friend said cheerily. “Now I just have to find the cover letter I used for my last job application and spruce it up a little.”
“Nooooooo!” I said. “There’s no point in taking all that time to tailor your resume to each application if you’re going to use a fill-in-the-blank cover letter.”
We ended up sitting together for another 30 minutes and coming up with a new one that highlighted what a great fit she was—not just for the role, but for the company. And while a half hour is a time investment, it’s absolutely worth it if it gets you the job. (Which my friend did.)
Wondering how to customize your own cover letter? Check out the cover letter template below.
In Your Salutation
Most job seekers already know this, but just in case: You should always address your cover letter to a specific person. It shows you’re willing to do your research. Plus, seeing “Dear John Doe” will impress the person reading it (even if he or she is not John Doe) much more than “To whom it may concern” will.
If the job posting doesn’t include a name, look up the company’s hiring manager. No luck? Search for the person in charge of the department to which you’re applying. If you’re still striking out, try these advanced techniques.
In Your Opening Paragraph
The first section of your cover letter is the perfect opportunity to tell the hiring manager you understand what makes this organization and job special. I like to start with:
I am excited to apply for [job title].
Then I launch into my explanation.
I am excited to apply for the Sales Analyst position. TravelClick has become a leader in the hospitality industry by always focusing on its clients—whether they’re huge global brands or local hotels. Your commitment to customer satisfaction is something I’ve always strived for in my own career. I’d love to bring this dedication, along with my relevant skills and experience, to your award-winning company.
If you’re having trouble with this section, look through the company’s site, social media profiles, employee LinkedIn accounts, and so on to focus in on the key reasons you want this job and would be good at it. Sure, we all need a salary, but you should be able to explain why you’re enthusiastic about this opportunity in particular. (Oh, and make sure you’re describing how you can help the company, rather than how the company can help you!)
For even more ideas, check out these 31 cover letter examples of attention-grabbing intros.
In Your Body Paragraphs
Your next two paragraphs should describe your most relevant previous roles, the skills you’ve learned and experiences you’ve gotten from them, and how you’d apply those skills and insight to this position. I know, that sounds a little scary, so let’s break it down.
The first line is super simple:
During [time period], I worked as [job title] for [company name].
In your next couple sentences, talk about the specific responsibilities you had in that role that are the closest to the responsibilities you’d have in this job.
As [job title], I was responsible for [Task 1, Task 2, and Task 3].
In this role, I worked on several projects, including [Project 1, Project 2, and Project 3].
Now, it’s important not to regurgitate your resume here; rather, you want to take the most relevant experiences from your resume, expand on them, and describe why they’re so applicable for the job.
It’s even more important to bring it home in your last one or two lines by discussing how you’d use what you learned from those experiences in this position.
Here’s the whole thing:
For the past three years, I’ve been working as a technical product manager for Blue Duck, where I’ve developed more than 30 high-level features that incorporated client requests, user needs, and design and product team capabilities with deadline and budget demands. Balancing so many needs was often challenging, and I learned how to find the solution that satisfied the maximum number of stakeholders. As your product manager, I’d apply this knowledge to ensure we delivered innovative solutions that worked for our customers and their users while staying on-time and within budget.
Choosing Your Examples
Wondering how you know which jobs and qualifications to highlight?
Your current or most recent position should usually be in your cover letter (unless it was for a very short time period, or it’s not at all similar to the one you’re applying for). To find your second example, go back to the job description and highlight the three things they’re asking for that seem most important—as in, you couldn’t get hired if you didn’t have them. Maybe that’s familiarity with a niche field, or great writing abilities, or leadership talent.
Whatever three things you highlight, make sure they’re reflected in your cover letter. Choose the job experience where you utilized those traits. And if you don’t have the exact skill they’re looking for, use the closest example you have.
In Your Closing
Most people use their closing paragraph to essentially say, “Thanks for reading, looking forward to hearing back.” But that’s a waste of valuable real estate! Just like the rest of your cover letter, your closing should be personalized.
First, if you want to proactively answer a potential concern, here’s a good place to do it. Let’s say you’re currently living in Atlanta, but you want to work in Portland. End with one sentence explaining that you’re moving, such as “I am relocating to Portland in May and look forward to working in the city.” This line shows your reader you fully read the job description, and that location (or relocation) won’t be an issue.
Perhaps you’re not quite qualified for the position. You should never say, “I know I’m not as qualified as other candidates, but…” However, you can say, “My background in [industry or profession], combined with my passion for your company and this role, would make me uniquely qualified to tackle [specific responsibility].” Ending on a strong note and highlighting why your unexpected experience is actually an asset will put the hiring manager’s mind at ease. (More on that here.)
Alternatively, you can use your closing to reinforce your strong interest in the job.
For example, you could write:
Again, TravelClick’s focus on customer service has made a huge impression on me. I would be thrilled to work at an organization where every employee—from an intern to the CEO—cares so much about the people they help.
Thank you for your time,
There’s no arguing that it takes longer to compose a custom cover letter for each application than just changing out the company names in a canned one. But if you care about getting the job (and I hope you do, since you’re taking the time to apply for it), personalizing each one is the way to go.
Photo of typing courtesy of Shutterstock.
Before you even get an interview, your application will have to impress the recruiter or hiring manager, so perfecting your cover letter is key to earning a face-to-face meet.
Here are some tips for a perfect cover letter that will catch any recruiter's eye:
1. Tweak your tone for every company.
Don't send generic cover letters that can be used for any job application.
You want to make sure that the tone of your letter fits the type of firm you're applying to.
Is the company looking for someone with sass or someone more serious? Figure that out on your own, and tailor your letter to what suits the company.
2. Make a case.
You won't be able to get to this on your résumé, so be sure to make the case for why you're the right person for the job and why you want to work for the company on your cover letter.
A good way to sell yourself is to connect your experiences with the job description. List your skills and experiences that match the type of candidate they are looking to hire.
3. Be different.
Don't repeat everything on your résumé in your cover letter. The letter is your chance to shine and show a bit of your personality. Repeating what's already been said just takes up valuable space.
4. Don't bring up your weaknesses.
If no one is asking you what your biggest failings are, then don't be so eager to volunteer that information. The cover letter is not the time to reflect on self-improvement; save that for the weakness question you may be asked during the interview.
5. Focus on the company, not yourself.
Try your best to show that you care about the company and how you want to help it grow. Try to avoid using too much "I," and instead show how you can be a helpful addition to the company, not in general.
6. Stick to the right length.
Limit yourself to a page, and try to stick to four paragraphs. The first should comprise an introduction, the position you'd like to apply for, and a sentence briefly summarizing why you'd like the job and why you're a perfect fit.
The next two paragraphs should go on to mention applicable skills and specific achievements that further showcase how qualified you are for the job. You can even use some of the space to explain your suitability if it needs more details, such as the fact that you'd move for the job or why you're changing careers.
The last paragraph should be a final, brief emphasis on why you're excited for the position and a place for you to thank the readers for their time and consideration. You can also make a polite mention of letting them know you'll be in touch.
7. Keep it clean.
Be sure to repeatedly edit your cover letter, and always have at least one other pair of eyes look it over. Check for grammar mistakes, run-on sentences, and spelling errors. Make sure everything is consistent. If you say "I am" in the first sentence, then don't suddenly switch to "I'm" in the next.
To round out your application package, avoid making these common résumé mistakes, as well.