If you’re answering an ad, the specifics of your cover letter should be tied as closely as possible to the actual wording of the ad you’re responding to. I’ve had students express concern that it’s plagiarism to use the words of an ad in one’s cover letter, but here’s a case where using someone else’s words is a plus rather than a minus. In his book, Don’t Send a Resume, Jeffrey Fox calls the best letters written in response to want ads “Boomerang letters” because they “fly the want ad words – the copy – back to the writer of the ad.” In employing what Fox calls “a compelling sales technique,” he advises letter writers to “flatter the person who wrote the ad with your response letter. Echo the author’s words and intent. Your letter should be a mirror of the ad.” Fox notes that when the recipient reads such a letter, the thought process will be: “This person seems to fit the description. This person gets it.”
A particularly effective way to deploy the specifics of a want ad to your advantage is to use a two-column format in which you quote in the left-hand column specific qualifications that come right from the employer’s want ad and in the right-hand column, your attributes that meet those qualifications. The two-column format is extremely effective when you possess all the qualifications for a job, but it can even sell you when you are lacking one or more qualification. The format so clearly demonstrates that you are qualified in so many areas that the employer may be willing to overlook the areas in which you lack the exact qualifications. See a sample letter in a two-column format.