How to Write a Personalized Cover Letter

Create Your Own Cover Letter Template

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I've heard from more than a few hiring managers who wonder if cover letter writing is a lost art. One of them told me that he has received a lot of cover letters that are shorter than tweets including a cover letter that just said "Have a nice day." and another that said, "Please view my resume."

Cover letter writing is not supposed to be a lost art. Employers still expect them. Hiring managers at the companies surveyed by Saddleback College which require cover letters (53%) want more than just a basic cover letter.

What Employers Expect in a Cover Letter

According to the companies surveyed, here's what they expect to see in cover letters: 

As you can see, employers expect personalized cover letters that show them why you are a strong fit for the position and a valuable candidate worth taking the time to interview. 

That said, in defense of applicants who are sending cover letters as though they were 140 character tweets, it can be hard to justify taking the time to write a customized cover letter, especially when you don't hear back from employers after sending out, in some cases, hundreds of cover letters and resumes.

It's tough when you put effort into applying - over and over again - and your applications get lost in the "black hole" of the Internet. The bottom line though is that if an employer requests a cover letter, you need to send one - a real cover letter, not a sentence or two.

It's in your best interest to send one, even if it's not a requirement.

How to Write a Personalized Cover Letter

Start with a template: One way to make cover letter writing a little easier is to start with a cover letter template. Then, customize it to include some basic information about your skills and experience.

Save your cover letter as a Word document with a file name that's easy to recognize i.e. coverlettertemplate.doc.

Each time you apply for a job, open your cover letter template document and create a new version of your cover letter. Personalize what is now your cover letter template to fit the job requirements of the positions you apply to. Here's what you'll need to personalize and update on the cover letter template: 

Contact information: Edit the contact information section to include the information for the new employer. Edit the salutation with the new hiring manager's name, if you have it. 

The specific job: Edit the first paragraph of your letter to reflect the job you're applying to and where you found the posting. In the first paragraph of the cover letter, you can also share - briefly - why you're passionate about the position and would be a good fit. For example, "With my X years of experience in [industry] and passion for [xyz core job functions/skills], I believe I'm a strong candidate for this position." 

If you were referred to the position or know someone within the company, the first paragraph is the perfect place to mention the connection. (Note: Always confirm with your connection before dropping their name.) 

Your skills and experience: Personalize the body of the cover letter and relate your skills to the job description. Most likely, this will be the most challenging part of the process. It's also the most important portion of the cover letter. This is where you'll make the case for your candidacy. On your resume, you've listed out your skills and experience. Now, in your cover letter, you want to go deeper, and show why your particular mix of skills and experience would allow you to be the ideal employee. 

You won't need to adjust your final paragraph, closing, and signature. These can remain the same. 

Be sure to save your cover letter with a new file name (File Save As) so you have a copy of each cover letter you send to employers. Here's advice on how to name cover letters and resumes

Tweaking is easier than starting from scratch.

With the template in place, it won't take long to write a tailored cover letter. You'll be sure to make a much better impression with your personalized cover letter than if you simply write, "Here is my resume."

More guidelines and resources to help you get started writing a strong cover letter: Top 10 Cover Letter Writing Tips | What to Include in a Cover Letter | Cover Letter Writing Guide

Review Cover Letter Samples

If you're not sure what to write, review cover letter samples to get ideas for writing cover letters that make the best impression. Here are email cover letter samples as well. 

Proofread Your Letters

Before you send off your cover letter, make sure to proofread it carefully. A typo or grammatical error can cost you an interview. Here are proofreading tips for job seekers.