Anatomy of a Cover Letter, Part II Print E-mail
In the previous post, I talked about making the most of your cover letter by making sure you have a good, solid introduction and that you demonstrate interest in the job and company. Paying attention to both these elements can help make your cover letter a job search tool that contributes to the success of your job search rather than something that gets ignored.

In Part II of this post, I want to address the meat of the cover letter. The main purpose of the cover letter is to highlight the qualifications you have for a particular job. The challenge is to do so without repeating the content of the resume word-for-word. It is tempting to copy/paste sentences directly from the resume into the cover letter. Do not succumb to temptation! It's lazy and it's a glaring shortcut to the hiring manager.

The trick to composing good meat in a cover letter is to customize each cover letter to the individual position. Read the job posting closely or research the requirements for the job (if its not an advertised position). Hiring managers have concrete, must-have requirements and then they have would be nice to have qualifications. They generally list these in the job description. For example, look at the job posting for an accountant below:

The ideal candidate will have a minimum of five years related experience with responsibilities that include expense and revenue allocations by project, maintenance of general ledger, accounts receivable and accounts payable. Working knowledge and experience with MS Office and ADP electronic payroll reporting is preferred. Experience in the professional services industry is mandatory. Experience with Sema4 accounting software is a big plus.

There are two points that are concrete in this job posting - five years experience and professional services industry background. If you were an accountant applying for this position, it would be crucial to have these two concrete items under your belt and to mention them in the cover letter. These are the bare minimum skills that are required to even be considered for the position.

There are three skill sets in the job posting that serve as the separating skills. These are what will separate candidates from the generally considered pile to the interview immediately pile. These skills are software experience with MS Office, ADP, and Sema4. If you are an accountant with the necessary years of experience in professional services industry AND you have good background in these software packages/technologies, you have a good chance of getting an interview if you don't kill your chances with a bad resume. To maximize your interview chances, you should discuss your background in working with these skills in the cover letter, making sure to paint a picture of the environments in which you used the software and the outcome of your work.

Using the cover letter to hone in on what the employer is seeking in a candidate will win greater attention given to the resume. Remember, the cover letter is written for each individual employer or job opening and serves to focus the employer's attention on how you fit the parameters for the job. A generic, blah cover letter won't do that and will simply be wasted space.