Modifying the cover letter to tell your story for a specific job can be challenging. Writing a compelling cover letter can take a lot of time and it may not be read. Here is what you really need to do when trying to tailor a cover letter for a specific job.

Keywords

Most employers use the applicant tracking system (ATS) for resumes. These systems do not typically parse the cover letter for keywords. In fact, they often go into different places in the ATS. That cover letter may not even get passed on to the hiring manager in the hiring process. So, you have to think about the cover letter differently than the resume.

Remember that a cover letter is simply a highlight reel of your resume. It should hit on the highlights of your career to convince the person to contact you for an interview. To do this, you will want to include some of the keywords from the job posting or the company's career page to show that you are a fit for what they want.

This doesn't mean copying/pasting everything from the job description. Instead, focus on what matters - the qualifications (required and preferred). Frame up your most relevant achievements and experiences in a way that shows you are qualified for the job opening. Using the language from the job description or from the company shows that you have done your research and that you aren't using a generic letter.

Length

The cover letter is your chance to tell your story, quickly, to the person skimming it. Meaning that you will want to focus on the key information so that they want to schedule an interview to learn more. You can't convey all the details in it. Instead, keep the message focused and targeted.

You can do this easily by connecting the 2 biggest achievements or experiences with the requirements in the job. You can call attention to those big talking points right away in the letter to focus on what makes you a strong candidate.

Consider using bullets on the cover letter as well. This will make it easy for the person skimming your cover letter to quickly see the skills and points that you want them to read. Make sure that you connect those skills to the job you are applying to and to use examples from your resume in the explanation of how you are a good fit for the role or how you have shown those skills.

At most, the cover letter should be 1 page. As with anything, there are exceptions. But, most people expect that a cover letter will not be more than 1 page of text. It can also be shorter. Or, you may not even need to do it at all (Check out this blog with the answer to whether an optional cover letter is optional)

Answer the Question Why?

As noted above, the entire point of a cover letter is to give the person skimming it an opportunity to see why you are a good fit for the open job. The most effective way to do this is to treat the cover letter like a written interview where you are answering the question why? Why are you applying to this position at this company? And, why do you want this job?

You may not know much about the job or the company beyond the information in the job description. So, answering the question why can be particularly challenging. Depending on the types of jobs that you are pursuing, it may not be necessary to include anything particularly specific in the cover letter. However, the more you want to be paid, the more customization and specifics are expected in the cover letter. Meaning that the higher you are in terms of title or experience, the more that your audience will expect in terms of specific answers to this why question.

An effective way to answer the why question is to also answer the obvious questions the person may have about your experience. Have you been at a company for a long time? In that case, you will likely be asked why you are looking to make a change now and why are you considering this organization? Have you been out of work for a while? In that case, answer the question of what you have been doing and why you are looking to get back now.

At the same time, do not overthink the answer to the why question. The people skimming your cover letter understand that the process is just starting. So, they don't expect perfection or a fully complete answer. Instead, they are looking for the highlights about why you could be a good fit and what prompted you to pursue this role. Keep this in mind when building your next cover letter. You should be specific, but you don't have to (and should not) tell your life's story here. Instead, give the person a preview of why they should contact you to discuss further.


Customizing cover letters can take a lot of time. Have an expert write all of your cover letters so that you can focus your job search time on what matters most. Learn More.

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