5 Ways to Customize a Cover Letter

Today’s hot job market doesn’t mean cover letters aren’t important, but the art of getting them right is never easy.

Companies are scrambling to find hires, either because the economy has lifted their business or to fill the stream of shortages from those quitting. So in the rush to apply for opportunities, the question for many is obvious: do cover letters still matter?

According to a recent study, yes — in fact, eight of 10 of HR professionals said a great cover letter can get you an interview even if your resume isn’t perfect. The same number said they expected a cover letter even if the application called it optional. “It’s an opportunity to add a personal touch to your application and show the recruiter you’re a good fit, “says Val Olson, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. But sending the same cover letter everywhere, experts say, is counterproductive. The trick is to write a short, customized note that highlights your abilities and unique experiences. Here are some expert tips:

Address the letter to a person.

Always address your cover letter to a real person working in the company. “Human touches matter,” says Gabby Lennox a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. Use LinkedIn or the company website to navigate to the hiring manager for your role and write your letter to them. If you can’t find the hiring manager, address your letter to the department head. “Even if you get the name wrong, it’s better to write the letter to someone than to no one,” says Lennox. Refrain from using greetings such as “to whom it may concern,” or “dear sir/madam.”

Avoid redundant openings.

The days of the generic opening — stating your name and the position you’re applying for at the company — are long gone. For example: “I’m writing today to apply for XYZ position at ABC company” states the obvious in most cases, and is boring, experts say. Instead, start your letter with a story or an anecdote. You need to pull the reader in by highlighting your differentiators while matching the formality and tone of the industry or company, says Lennox.

Highlight your ‘why.’

The soul of your cover letter lies in stating why you want the job. You should focus on why you want to work at the company, why you’re interested in the position, and how you’re qualified for the role, says Olson. And, says, Lennox, “most companies want to feel special and as though their job opening is your dream job. Researching the company and highlighting specific points— without stating the obvious— to show your enthusiasm for the job is critical, she says.

Name-Drop, when possible.

To make the letter more customized, mention someone you know in the company. Experts say if you had the chance to network or have a referral, name the people you spoke to. Name-dropping indicates that you’ve done research and further reiterates your interest in the company. “To take things to the next level, add a sentence describing the impact of your conversation and what you learned about the company or role,” says Lennox.

Get creative with formatting. 

Lastly, you can experiment with how you format the body of your cover letter, experts say. Create a table to show your qualifications and accomplishments, says Olson. List the job requirements on one side of the table and your matching skills and experience on the other. Make sure to quantify the business impacts you made, she says. Whatever format you end up choosing, the letter should never be more than one page long.