Create a customized cover letter that introduces you as the best candidate right off the bat.

Every year, businesses spend billions on brand identity and image. Corporate CEOs want the public to identify their business' brand with little to no effort. This means spending countless hours creating marketing materials to spread the company's vision, mission and reputation online and in print. Similarly, individuals must invest in their own brand identity to be successful in their professional lives.

Creating your best image and personal brand starts with the cover letter. The cover letter is the “door-opener,” “conversation-starter” and the first impression for hiring managers. When career counselors discuss the famous elevator pitch, they are referring to your cover letter. It's not the resume, interview, or job application recruiters scrutinize first; recruiters look to cover letters for a basic understanding and “feel” for potential candidates.

Though most job seekers understand the importance of personal cover letters and spend countless hours writing creative sentences and including their most valuable assets, they rarely consider tailoring their cover letter to fit the actual job. Inserting bland material aimed at all jobs will reduce your chances of landing the interview. On the other hand, crafting a customized, tailored cover letter and connecting the dots shows the recruiter how your experience and skills are best suited for their needs.

Here are a few strategies designed to help tailor a customized cover letter, without overwhelming your job hunting.

Start with relevant skills and abilities

Hiring managers look for candidates who fit their needs. Include skills on your resume that mirror the assets the company is seeking in an employee. Compare your resume to the company's job description. But steer clear of bland descriptions or copy-and-pasting. Focus on your notable contributions and major attributes.

“As a senior marketing manager with more than 15 years' experience creating campaigns and strategies to promote brand identity, I am able to ______. Some of my most recent accomplishments include:

  • Increased web traffic by 150% by analyzing current online trends, aligning company standards and strategies to match those trends and developing promotional products to draw traffic.

  • Won $15 million Fortune 500 contract by promoting company's brand and product, analyzing competition and aligning sales goals to match current market trends.

  • Awarded PRSA's “Top Company Newsletter” by redesigning publication, focusing on the information desired by the audience, utilizing graphics and images, including C-Level biographies and reducing overhead.

Names matter

Name dropping may be a dangerous pastime if you don't follow the rules carefully. But people do love reading their names in print. One area to include a name is the recipient's address and salutation. If the application or job description identifies a specific person to contact, be sure to address your cover letter and other application materials to that person. Even if the job post doesn't include an actual person, try to avoid using “To whom it may concern,” “Dear Sir or Ma'am” or “Dear Hiring Manager.” These are dry and very impersonal. Call the company and ask for the contact person, do some digging on LinkedIn, or ask them how they prefer to be addressed.

Mr. John Doe

Hiring Manager

[Company Name]

123 Main Street

Anytown, USA 12345

Dear Mr. Doe:

Sometimes companies have several team members working on applications. In those instances, you may not be able to address the letter to a specific person. These scenarios require a more professional technique. Address the letter to “Dear Hiring Manager:” or the equivalent person for the company. Stay away from gender-specific language (i.e. Sir and Ma'am) as this is dangerous and can cause some hurt feelings. The recipient's address should forego specific names and titles in this case. Use the company's name in place of an actual person.

[Company Name]

124 Main Street

Anytown, USA 12345

Dear Hiring Manager:

Tell them you want the job and why

We all tend to focus on our accomplishments and qualities but forget the hiring process isn't about us. Recruiters are looking for people who will benefit the company. In the last paragraph – not the closing paragraph – a customized cover letter should tell the recruiter you want the job and why. Explain this is the company you want to work for and why. Go online and research the company's “About Us” web page. Gather information about the company's mission and vision statements. Learn more about their community engagement. Use this information to connect both the company's and your goals.

“I want to commit long-term to [Company Name] because both our goals align. [Company Name] seeks to promote self-awareness and compassion within the community through its [program name]. Along those same lines, I have…”

Speak their language

Some companies have forgone the “human eyes” approach to reading cover letters. They use advanced software called Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) to weed out undesirable cover letters and resumes. In other words, you have to convince the computer before gaining access to the hiring manager. Go back to the job description and carefully look for keywords. These more likely are listed in the requirements section and include hard skills unique to the position. While resisting the urge to copy-paste the exact description into your cover letter, rewrite the description in your own words, aligning it with your resume and using the keywords.

“As a senior-level graphic designer, my current role entails using Adobe CS (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and Dreamweaver) to create stunning digital and print images. My colleagues have credited my ability to design appealing, trending websites and social media accounts. Additionally, I have advanced knowledge of video editing using FinalCut.”

Don't forget the introductory paragraph

All cover letters start with an introduction. A well-written, customized cover letter should include the company's name, position and other identifiers included in the job description. Forego any personal greetings (i.e. “I hope this letter finds you well,” “Hope all is well,” etc.). These personal messages are sloppy and unprofessional. Focus your intro paragraph on the topic and outline of the cover letter.

“I am responding to your job advertisement on As a professional project manager, I believe I am a good fit for [Company Name]'s IT Project Manager position. As you will see, my attached resume details more than five years' experience managing technology solutions for competitive companies. My history includes…”

Creating an easy-fill template for cover letters

Customizing your cover letter doesn't mean creating a new cover letter every time you apply for a job. Templates are easy to make and an important time saver. Follow these easy steps to create your template.

Create your overall design. Choose a basic design that is professional and reflects your personality. Don't use colors, off-the-wall fonts or images. Creating a cover letter design just entails designing a header (stationary head) for your cover letter. It should include your name, the job title, and contact information.

Write a specific letter to start. Copy your first cover letter and start with this template. Highlight all tailored information and replace it with brackets “[ ]” for easy identifications. For example, “As a senior-level graphic designer, my current role entails using Adobe CS (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and Dreamweaver) to create stunning digital and print images” can be changed to “As a senior-level graphic designer, my current role entails [tailored information].” Leave all bland, generic information and soft skills as is. This is transferable to all future personal cover letters.

Save as a Word template. To prevent overwriting past saved cover letters, save your document as a template. Once saved, every time you open the file, it creates a new cover letter, exactly as you formatted it. To save a Word file as a template click [File > Save As]. Choose Word Template from the drop-down box and name your file. Some versions of Word have different instructions which you can find in their Help Section.

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