The cover letter is often overlooked, tossed off as an afterthought by a job candidate who wants to apply as fast as possible. That’s why a majority of them tend to follow the same template, spending three paragraphs outlining their general qualifications and experience.
And therein lies the trap: while most cover-letter writers do a great job summarizing their work history, precious few tailor the document to the actual position. Instead of speaking directly to their audience (the hiring manager) in a way that resonates, they spend their precious time shouting into a void that doesn’t want to listen.
If a hiring manager wants a generalized breakdown of your skills and experience, they can always look at your résumé, which sets out that information in neat bullet-points. The cover letter is the candidate’s chance to get a little more personal.
Before you start writing, ask yourself: how will your skills benefit this specific company?
Of course, this means you’ll need to do a little more research on the company itself. Visit its corporate Website, and head over to Google News to see if it’s been mentioned in the press over the past year or so. Make a list of what the company’s working on, and which of those projects interest you in particular.
Once you’ve collected data on what the firm is doing, take things another level down and focus on how it does it. Do its employees take an unconventional approach to problem solving? Is the environment button-down and corporate, or is it freewheeling and innovative? Is the reporting structure hierarchical or “flat”?
The answers to all of those questions will allow you to tailor the letter. Choose your core skills that are relevant to the position and show how you could use them to help the company succeed in its mission. Adjust your tone to fit the company culture (although you should avoid getting too colloquial, even with a startup). Last, make sure to eliminate as many cookie-cutter salutations, buzzwords, and passive verbs as possible—that will further emphasize that you’re interested in working for this particular firm.