Searching for a job can be time-consuming. It’s tempting to cut corners and send a mass-produced letter, but doing so can hurt your chances of making the first cut and landing a first interview.

Employers today find most of their applicants online. According to survey results published in Forbes, 94 percent of interviews and 86 percent of new hires came from online sources! The most popular site was a job aggregator,, followed by CareerBuilder, Monster, and Craigslist.

Why You Need a Customized Cover Letter reports that over 800,000 jobs were posted in the last week. Given that level of competition for open positions, you need to leverage every advantage that you have in order to make it past the initial screening and into the next round for consideration. One of the best ways to make your resume stand out is to write a stellar, customized cover letter that puts the icing on the cake of your application package.
Avoid This Trap

Custom means just that – original, unique. Avoid using templates to create cover letters, since that only makes them look like everyone else’s cover letter. At the same time, don’t use outlandish fonts, illustrations or photography. A professional business letter is sufficient. You want to stand out in the best possible way and not for the worst reasons.

What About Referrals?

Even when you have a contact within the company who referred you for the position, you should still include a custom cover letter. Don’t take your connection for granted. That person may not be the one reviewing your application package. Remain professional, and include a custom cover letter.

5 Ideas to Customize Your Cover Letter

If you’re ready to sit down and spruce up your cover letter right now, here are five ideas to help you make yours stand out from the crowd. These are simple yet highly effective ideas that are both original and memorable.

  1. Link your experience to company needs: In order to write a paragraph detailing how your experience fits perfectly with the company’s business needs, you’ll need to spend time researching the company. Search for news articles, annual reports, and trade publications online to read up on the company’s recent projects. Find ways to demonstrate how your skills fit the company’s most pressing needs exactly.
  2. Leverage the job posting: Read between the lines on the job posting. You may notice specific skills or attributes the employer seems to want. Highlight these in your cover letter by adding a few sentences noting your strengths that fit the position advertisement. The job posting shows you everything they are looking for, which makes it easier to know what to say. This also helps employers see that you took the time to look over the description and not just applying to everyone and everything. You can also look at similar postings on different job boards to see if there are any key terms that keep coming up that this employer did not list on this particular posting – it never hurts to cover you bases.
  3. Open with your strongest statement: Everyone starts their cover letter with the same statement: “Please accept this letter and the enclosed resume…” Instead of opening with this common sentence, open with your strongest point. “With over five years of project management experience and seven years of experience in the insurance industry, I am a great fit for the positions at XYZ company.” You’ve just opened with your strongest statement, and recruiters will take notice. Again, your goal is to stand out. Don’t make them wait to find the most interesting part of your letter.
  4. State who you know: If someone recommended you for the job, or you know someone working at the company already, mention them by name. This is especially important if the person is in a position of leadership.
  5. Proofread carefully: Proofread your cover letter several times. Double check spellings, especially the name of the company and product names. Make sure your grammar, spelling, and punctuation is impeccable. Every detail is important. The smallest mistake may signal to a recruiter that you lack attention to detail, so proofread your cover letter several times. If you feel you won’t catch all of your own mistakes, ask a friend to read it for you and provide feedback.

Formatting a Custom Cover Letter

Use a standard business layout for your cover letter, including a return address and date, as well as the company’s address. A business-like salutation such as “Dear Mr. Jones” or “Dear Recruiting Manager” is always appropriate. Be sure to close with a professional ending such as, “Sincerely” or “Cordially.”

Within the letter, short paragraphs and bullet points make the information easy to read, scan and acknowledge. Make sure you include both your email address and telephone number in the closing paragraph so that your contact information is easy to find.

The internet has made job hunting both easier and highly competitive. Instead of competing against a few dozen applicants for a position, you may be competing against hundreds, if not thousands. Use every aspect of your application to your advantage, especially the cover letter, to make it stand out and help you land that job.

About the Author:
Jeanne_Nov2012Jeanne Grunert is an award-winning writer and marketing expert with over 20 years of experience. In 2007, Jeanne quit her marketing executive position at a large New York City area publisher, moved to Virginia, opened her own freelance writing and content marketing firm, and began growing a life instead of just making a living. She writes about business, marketing, home and garden topics for Fit Small Business and a variety of publications and websites.