A cover letter serves a single purpose – to expand on the details in your resume and send the message to the recruiter, "You should hire me! Here's why!" To drive the message home, you'll have to learn how to tailor your cover letter so that it focuses on the employer's needs rather than on your own.
Of course, your needs and plans are an essential part of why you want a new job in the first place, and you should never accept a job that doesn't take your salary requirements, commuting limits and career advancement expectations into account. But those details will enter the discussion during and after the interview process.
First, you have to land that interview. To get the invitation you need, open your case by laying out what you have to offer and what you're able to contribute, not what you have to gain. Here are a few ways to tailor your cover letter to an employer's needs and get the interview!
Tailoring your Cover Letter: Gather information
Before you can address your employer's needs, you must first unearth those needs. You can't possibly know everything that's happening on the other side of the table, but you can study the job post and do some online research to drill down into what problem the employer is looking to solve with this hire.
For example, here's some text from a job post for a Warehouse Associate:
"Our busy facility has just moved into two new buildings totaling 2 million square feet. We need to pick, pack and ship every order daily with speed and passion. We are looking for driven, goal-oriented Warehouse Associates to join our fast-paced team."
If you read the text carefully, it's easy to see that a few things matter to this employer above all: Speed, accuracy, and speed. They want employees who can move around their huge facility with a strong sense of purpose in order to pack, ship, and get the job done FAST. So, if you wanted this job, the best plan of action in your cover letter would be to focus on your ability to move quickly.
Here's another real-life job ad that provides clues about the employer's needs. These are a few of the "required skills" for an Accounting Clerk at a regional medical center:
- Must be proficient in the use of email software (specifically Lotus Notes and or Outlook), Windows applications and Microsoft Office programs, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint.
- SME in payroll software applications; API and Lawson a plus.
- Proficient in accounts payable software and processes; OnBase and Lawson a plus.
Based on the text, it's likely most applicants for this job will be familiar with specific payroll software. So, as you draft your cover letter, be sure to name every payroll program you've used (even they aren't listed here they can be seen as transferrable skills), and explain your willingness to be trained on platforms you haven't used before.
Here's one more example of how the "skills and abilities" section in a job ad for a Legal Secretary can give you clues about what to focus on in your cover letter:
- A minimum of five years of extensive litigation experience.
- Extensive knowledge of court rules, ECF procedures.
- Professional demeanor with all levels of management, clients, attorneys, and staff.
- Must apply a high level of mental effort when performing a high volume of administrative tasks and other essential duties.
- May need to work more than 37.50 hours per week.
These employers are searching for someone with a very specific personality who knows how to behave in a professional legal setting. They want a hard-working cool customer who won't become flustered under pressure, who's willing to put in long hours, and who can communicate high-stakes information. If you're an applicant who won't wilt after a long day and you never speak without thinking, you'll want to mention this in your cover letter.
A cover letter serves a single purpose – to expand on the details in your resume and send the message to the recruiter, "You should hire me! Here's why!"
Tailoring your Cover Letter: Emphasize Substance Over Keywords
While a professionally written resume that is chock-full of keywords can help move your resume through an ATS (application tracking system), they won't have quite the same impact on your cover letter. When writing your cover letter, think like a human, not a robot.
A few keywords are necessary, but they should be used to elaborate on who you are, what you've done in the past, and what you're able to do in the future. Never just toss key terms and industry jargon into a cover letter.
Tailoring your Cover Letter: Recognize that You're Already Winning
Since about 45 percent of job applicants won't bother to write a cover letter at all, you're already giving yourself an edge by including one in your application. Contrary to popular opinion, most employers see great benefit in a cover letter.
A cover letter can help a recruiter better understand the candidate as a person, adds dimension to a resume, and tells the employer that you're serious about the open position. Rather than seeing cover letters as a burden or a nuisance, research shows that most employers really do read them from beginning to end, especially when they are trying to distinguish between two similarly qualified candidates.
Give yourself an advantage from the start! Create a well written, employer-focused cover letter using our sophisticated professional cover letter builder.