How to Write a Personalized Cover Letter
Create Your Own Cover Letter Template
I've heard from more than a few hiring managers who wonder if cover letter writing is a lost art. One of them told me that he has received a lot of cover letters that are shorter than tweets including a cover letter that just said "Have a nice day." and another that said, "Please view my resume."
Cover letter writing is not supposed to be a lost art. Employers still expect them. Hiring managers at the companies surveyed by Saddleback College which require cover letters (53%) want more than just a basic cover letter.
What Employers Expect in a Cover Letter
According to the companies surveyed, here's what they expect to see in cover letters:
As you can see, employers expect personalized cover letters that show them why you are a strong fit for the position and a valuable candidate worth taking the time to interview.
That said, in defense of applicants who are sending cover letters as though they were 140 character tweets, it can be hard to justify taking the time to write a customized cover letter, especially when you don't hear back from employers after sending out, in some cases, hundreds of cover letters and resumes.
It's tough when you put effort into applying - over and over again - and your applications get lost in the "black hole" of the Internet. The bottom line though is that if an employer requests a cover letter, you need to send one - a real cover letter, not a sentence or two.
It's in your best interest to send one, even if it's not a requirement.
How to Write a Personalized Cover Letter
Start with a template: One way to make cover letter writing a little easier is to start with a cover letter template. Then, customize it to include some basic information about your skills and experience.
Save your cover letter as a Word document with a file name that's easy to recognize i.e. coverlettertemplate.doc.
Each time you apply for a job, open your cover letter template document and create a new version of your cover letter. Personalize what is now your cover letter template to fit the job requirements of the positions you apply to. Here's what you'll need to personalize and update on the cover letter template:
Contact information: Edit the contact information section to include the information for the new employer. Edit the salutation with the new hiring manager's name, if you have it.
The specific job: Edit the first paragraph of your letter to reflect the job you're applying to and where you found the posting. In the first paragraph of the cover letter, you can also share - briefly - why you're passionate about the position and would be a good fit. For example, "With my X years of experience in [industry] and passion for [xyz core job functions/skills], I believe I'm a strong candidate for this position."
If you were referred to the position or know someone within the company, the first paragraph is the perfect place to mention the connection. (Note: Always confirm with your connection before dropping their name.)
Your skills and experience: Personalize the body of the cover letter and relate your skills to the job description. Most likely, this will be the most challenging part of the process. It's also the most important portion of the cover letter. This is where you'll make the case for your candidacy. On your resume, you've listed out your skills and experience. Now, in your cover letter, you want to go deeper, and show why your particular mix of skills and experience would allow you to be the ideal employee.
You won't need to adjust your final paragraph, closing, and signature. These can remain the same.
Be sure to save your cover letter with a new file name (File Save As) so you have a copy of each cover letter you send to employers. Here's advice on how to name cover letters and resumes.
Tweaking is easier than starting from scratch.
With the template in place, it won't take long to write a tailored cover letter. You'll be sure to make a much better impression with your personalized cover letter than if you simply write, "Here is my resume."
More guidelines and resources to help you get started writing a strong cover letter: Top 10 Cover Letter Writing Tips | What to Include in a Cover Letter | Cover Letter Writing Guide
Review Cover Letter Samples
If you're not sure what to write, review cover letter samples to get ideas for writing cover letters that make the best impression. Here are email cover letter samples as well.
Proofread Your Letters
Before you send off your cover letter, make sure to proofread it carefully. A typo or grammatical error can cost you an interview. Here are proofreading tips for job seekers.
“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.