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Should You Create a Cover Letter for a Specific Job: When and How to Do it Right

Do you really need to write unique cover letters for each job application? This ultimate guide explains the pros and cons of customized cover letters and how to do it right.

Finding the perfect job to apply to is only the first step. Now, you need to build a cover letter that gets attention. Creating the cover letter means telling the story behind your resume why you are a good fit for that job. So, how do you create a cover letter for a specific job? The following is a step-by-step guide to everything you need to know about when to write a custom cover letter and how to do it.

Specific or Pre-Made?

The first step to understanding how is to really decide if you need to build a specific cover letter to apply for a job. A general cover letter can be used as-is to apply to any job. A specific cover letter is one that is built to address a particular job at a particular company.

There are some pros and cons for both approaches. To decide which method is right for you, here are the pros and cons of each approach when applying to jobs.

Pros for a generic cover letter:

  • Takes less time. Most cover letters aren't read. So, creating 1 and uploading it without thinking it over will definitely save you time when applying to a lot of jobs.

  • Addresses the basics. A well-crafted generic cover letter will cover all of the basics of your skills and why you are looking to make a career change.

  • Gets you in the running. You don't have a chance at the job until you hit apply. Some jobs have tight timelines to apply so using a generic cover letter will allow you to complete that job application on time.

Cons for a generic cover letter:

  • People can tell. A general cover letter will be just that - general. So, it will be obvious that you built a template and didn't customize it for the particular job.

  • Misses important details. There will be required and preferred qualifications listed in a job posting. A general cover letter won't address these and your skills may be overlooked by the hiring manager when skimming your resume.

  • Doesn't always meet the requirements. Companies often include a number of specific questions or steps to address for the job application in their job posting. A generic cover letter means that you aren't following these important steps and you will end up rejected.

  • Can cost you the job. A hiring manager or recruiter that skims a general cover letter will know it when they see it. This is often viewed as not caring enough about the job or a lack of attention to detail. And, almost always, it will result in your application being rejected.

Pros for a specific cover letter:

  • Sets the Tone for Your Interview. A proper cover letter will result in an interview. That job interview will give you the chance to expand upon the concepts in your cover letter and resume. Building a custom cover letter will help you to prepare for that interview.

  • Shows Why You are the Perfect Candidate. A specific cover letter will go beyond the requirements and explain why you are the best candidate for the role.

  • Focused on Relevant Details. A customized cover letter explicitly tells the hiring manager how you meet all of the required and preferred qualifications. This focus on the relevant skills will make it easy for the hiring manager to see you in the job.

  • Demonstrates Your Skills. Do you consider yourself detailed or hardworking? If so, you need to show that with a unique cover letter that is written for their open position.

Cons for a specific cover letter:

  • Takes Time. The time to build a well-written cover letter can add up quickly. The average employer spends about 6 minutes in total reviewing the job application materials from candidates through the entire hiring process. Most candidates spend an average of 1 hour per job application.

  • Isn't Always Read. A successful cover letter that you spent tons of time on may never actually be read. That's incredibly frustrating but absolutely true because of the way that hiring technology works.

Job seekers will not always know when a cover letter matters from the job ad. So, you will have to make strategic choices about when to build that unique cover letter, when to go with a general cover letter, and when to skip the cover letter entirely.

When to Create a Specific Cover Letter

The time it takes to build a great cover letter can really depend on the specific job description. Writing a specific cover letter can be as simple as customizing your existing general cover letter and does not have to be written entirely from scratch.

So, when should you take the time to build a specific cover letter? As explained above, there are pros and cons of both general and specific cover letters. But, the time it takes to create a specific cover letter can be worth it if:

  • You can submit a cover letter. Not all companies want or even allow a cover letter with a job application. Before you start writing a cover letter, make sure that it is even possible to send one in the first place.

  • You actually want the job. If this is your dream job, then you should send a custom cover letter. Not all jobs are perfect and not all of your applications to jobs have to be either.

  • You have something to say. Take the time to write a cover letter if you have something to add to your application beyond what is already on your resume. You are wasting your time and that of the hiring manager if you are simply repeating your resume or the job ad.

  • You can spend the time to write a cover letter. There isn't always time to write a cover letter. But, when you do have the time, then you should take the time to create a well written cover letter.

  • It is required. Some job ads will include specific questions to address in the cover letter. You will have to spend the time writing a unique cover letter to properly answer the specific questions.

  • It is expected. There are certain professions where the company will expect a cover letter that is built to the particular job and company. This expectation will not be spelled out in the job ad, but it will be a way that the future employer assesses the candidate. Common professions that expect a unique cover letter but don't say it in the job posting are: marketing, sales, customer service, technical writing, data, project/program management, executives.

  • You are a leader. Anyone that is looking to make 6 figures should expect to send a unique cover letter with each job application. This will be expected by the hiring manager to provide context on your leadership style, interest in the job, and potential fit for their culture.

How to Build the Best Custom Cover Letter

Building the best cover letter means that you will have to take the time to read the job posting carefully and to write a cover letter that prompts the reader to invite you to an interview. This is no easy task. But, it is possible for everyone to create a good cover letter if you follow the following tips to write a cover letter for a particular job.

Cover Letter Format Basics

Many job seekers aren't sure where to start with a cover letter. The best place to start is with the basics. A cover letter is simply a one page document that introduces your qualifications to the hiring manager and communicates how they meet the job requirements.

You will write the cover letter using the same header and styles as your resume. You should also make sure that the cover letter is prepared using the standard business letter expectations. This includes using spell check and proofreading the letter to make sure that it reads professionally to the prospective employer.

Opening of a Professional Cover Letter

The opening section of a specific cover letter will include the details for the particular job and the company. This means that you will list the following at the top of the cover letter:

  • Company name

  • Hiring Manager's Name and their job title or department (if known, if not then include Human Resources)

  • Company address (if applicable/known)

  • Date of letter

  • Submission method (i.e. via email, online application, etc)

  • Job title

  • Job requisition number or job id from the job posting.

You will also want to include a proper salutation for the professional cover letter. This would be the person's name if known (i.e. "Dear Ms. Smith" or "Dear Sir"). If the name is not known, then it is appropriate to include a general salutation such as. "To Whom it May Concern" or "Dear Hiring Manager" or "Dear Human Resources."

First Paragraph

The perfect cover letter starts with a strong first paragraph. You will want to use this opportunity to grab the attention of the hiring manager and to provide a brief overview of why you are the perfect candidate.

This first paragraph is typically no more than 3 sentences. It should start with a sentence about why you are sending the information. The next 1 - 2 sentences should explain provide a brief overview of you. Remember, this is an introductory paragraph, so you need to keep it brief.

The following is an example of an opening paragraph for a customized cover letter:

I am applying to this job as referred by Sam Smith, the current Director of Sales for Acme Corporation. Based on my conversations with Sam and my research, I am a perfect candidate for this role with my proven sales abilities and demonstrated success in driving revenues.

Another cover letter example for the opening paragraph is:

I am submitting my resume and other application materials to the Director of New Business Development as posted on the company website. I grow revenues and build high-performing sales teams with my expertise in enterprise software sales. I am the best candidate for this role because I helped profitably launch a number of product lines similar to the one that Acme is getting ready to launch.

Address the Specific Requirements

The next step to effective cover letters is to include a section dedicated to addressing the specific required and preferred qualifications listed in the job postings.

You should include a sentence or two to address each of the most important requirements. If you have met these requirements, then explain how and when you accomplished this in your previous work experience.

The following is an example:

I am highly familiar with CRM software such as SalesForce because I have used it since 2010 as part of my previous sales roles. I have also developed a process to increase efficiency in the way that leads are followed up on, which can be seen in my attached resume.

In another example:

I am an excellent writer with experience in copywriting and content marketing. In addition, I have managed a team of writers for a national publication.

You will get the hiring manager's attention if you are clear about each and every requirement that you meet. Do not forget to address the specific preferred requirements if you have them. You can also include explanations of how your experience equates to the preferred qualifications if it is not obvious.

Provide Examples

The best cover letter will go the next step to keep the hiring manager's attention to explain how you are the best candidate for the job opening by providing examples.

Choose a couple of specific instances from your work experience to illustrate how you have met the requirements and/or exceeded expectations.

Be sure to choose examples that are relevant to the job opening, and make sure to focus on results-oriented accomplishments rather than simply listing tasks that you completed.

The following is an example:

I was able to exceed my sales targets by 25% in the past two years. In addition, I have taken on a number of additional responsibilities such as managing and training new hires.

In another example:

I was responsible for developing the social media strategy for our company. This included creating a content calendar, designing posts, and measuring the effectiveness of results.

A good cover letter will pick relevant examples from your prior experience and connect them to the specific job or company. You include these examples to show what you can do if given the job. This allows the person skimming the cover letter to understand your professional skills and how they connect with the job opening.

Use the examples to provide your best talking points from your resume in the cover letter. This will help you to stand out from other job seekers and enable the hiring manager to see you potentially in the job.

Tell Your Story

Write a cover letter that tells the story beyond your resume.

Your resume should be a snapshot of your work experience, skills, and education. However, the cover letter is where you get to provide additional information about yourself as well as explain why you are interested in the job opening.

This is also an opportunity for you to show personality and make a connection with the hiring manager. The following is a cover letter example:

I am passionate about the travel industry and have been following your company for some time. I am excited to learn more about the Account Executive role and how I could contribute to your team.

In another cover letter example:

I appreciate that Acme is looking to expand their product line with a new launch in the coming months. I have a lot of experience in product launches having worked on three different ones in the past.

Your cover letter should be tailored to each job, but should also give a sense of who you are as a professional and as a person. This is your opportunity to stand out and make an impression beyond your resume. It is also important to be genuine in your cover letter.

Write a great cover letter by connecting your story with the company that you are applying to. This means reading the company website and doing a little research to find those connections. Include statements in your cover letter to make it clear that you have done that research and that you are a fit.

Explain Why They Should Hire You

The cover letter should also explain why the hiring manager should consider you for the job.

What makes you stand out from the other candidates? What can you contribute to the company that others cannot?

Make sure your pitch is clear and concise, and be sure to highlight your most relevant skills and experiences. The following is a cover letter example:

My previous experience as a recruiter and hiring manager has allowed me to understand what companies look for in candidates.

I am very familiar with the recruiting process and will be able to contribute right away should I receive an offer.

In another cover letter example:

I have worked in financial planning for over 15 years, helping clients achieve their long-term financial goals.

I am confident that I can bring my skills and experience to your company and help contribute to the success of your team.

Your cover letter should make it clear why you are interested in the job, what you can offer, and why they should hire you. This is your opportunity to shine above the other candidates. The cover letter should also explain why the hiring manager should consider you for the job. So, make sure to write a cover letter that makes it easy for the hiring manager to understand why they should pick you.

Tell the Hiring Manager Why You Want the Job

The reason for your job search may not be clear to the hiring manager. Make sure to include a statement in your new cover letter about why you want the particular job that they are trying to fill. Hiring managers want to know that you want their job - not just a job.

The following is a cover letter example:

I am interested in the Account Executive role because it would allow me to use my skills and experience in the travel industry.

In another cover letter example:

It sounds like your company is looking to expand their product line with a new launch in the coming months. I have a lot of experience in product launches having worked on three different ones in the past.

Your cover letter should explain why you are interested in the job and what you can offer to help contribute to the company's success. This is your opportunity to stand out from the other candidates and make a great impression.

You can do this by reading the job description and providing thoughts about why that role is a perfect fit for you. Hiring managers want to know that you understand the role that they are trying to fill and that you can do the job. Hiring managers also want to know why you want to do it.

Writing a cover letter that addresses your how and why is key to standing out. You can do this in a combination of paragraphs or use bullet points to connect you skills with those in the job description. Be creative in how you tell your story in the cover letter and make sure that you are clear about why you want this job and why they should hire you.

If you know the hiring manager's name and you are already in the industry, you can use the opportunity to talk about why you want to work for them. This why may come from your conversations with your connections at the company or the industry. Use this opportunity to remind the hiring manager that you can easily step in to the job and do it well because you already have the relationships to do so.

Another way to build this section of the perfect cover letter is to talk about the company culture at the potential employer. You shouldn't talk negatively about your current job. Instead, you should focus on the positive aspects of the company culture that you want in your new job. This will explain to the hiring manager why you are engaged in a job search currently and why you are the right fit for their opening.

Include a Professional Closing

Finally, you should always include a closing statement in your cover letter when applying for a specific job opening. You should close your cover letter with a statement that will entice the hiring manager to look at your resume and contact you for an interview.

The final part of the cover letter should make it clear what type of action is needed from the recipient. The closing should be polite and should thank the hiring manager for their time.

Here are a few cover letter examples:

I would love to discuss my qualifications with you in more detail.

I eagerly look forward to hearing from you about this opportunity.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon.

The final paragraph is the last cover letter step to completing your application. Take the time to do it right. Most job seekers miss this important part of building a professional cover letter. You will want to land that new job with the right message to start. So, follow these steps to build an effective final paragraph of a perfect cover letter.

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