Stop Sending the Same Cover Letter—Here’s how to Personalize to Make an Impression

An excellent cover letter performs two tasks: It explains why you’re a valuable candidate and how your skills fit a specific position. Sending the same cover letter with each application won’t meet these goals, and since hiring managers receive about a hundred applications per position, they quickly discard the generic ones.

cover letter

Let’s be honest, though. Writing a new cover letter from scratch for every job application is a time-consuming task. Want to personalize your cover letter to make an impression while simultaneously saving your schedule? Here’s how.

Begin with a template

Start your cover letter template by developing its structure. Insert placeholders for information that needs to change with each application, and write out sentences that can be safely reused, such as contact information and a strong conclusion (more on those below).

We recommend all placeholders be bracketed and highlighted—for example, “I believe my experience with [job skill 1], [job skill 2], and [job skill 3] makes me a promising candidate for the [title] position.” Using brackets and highlights makes the placeholders stand out, ensuring you won’t send a letter with one unfilled.

Finally, save your template in a secure location, and never write directly on the file. Copy-paste it in a separate folder for each new cover letter.

The salutation and closer

The top of your template should include your contact information: name, address, phone number, and email.

Next comes the salutation. It’s best to avoid the cliché “To Whom It May Concern.” The wording may be one-size-fits-all, but it comes across as dismissive. Instead, locate the hiring manager’s name online, and include it, “Dear [Mr. or Ms. Hiring Manager]:”. If their name isn’t readily available, try calling or substituting with a “Dear [department]:” or “Dear Madam or Sir:”.

For the complimentary close, a simple “sincerely” will suffice. If you’re sending a hard copy, be sure to pen your signature.

An eye-catching introduction

The first paragraph should capture the hiring manager’s attention. To do that, it needs to speak to the position you’re applying for. That means writing an original introduction for each cover letter.

A strong introduction will specify the position, explain your interest, and describe why you’d be a good fit. To begin aligning yourself with the company, utilize a tone that fits its culture—fun, caring, purpose-driven, results-oriented, etc.

Go beyond your resume

Your resume showcased desirable qualifications; now, your cover letter should illustrate how your work and interpersonal skills will exceed the company’s expectations.

One way is to tell a story about how your skills netted a positive outcome. Another is to describe quantifiable results your efforts brought to a former employer. Another is to mention accolades you received.

How much of the body written from scratch will vary per cover letter. Chances are, many of the positions you apply for will have overlapping qualifications. This means you can use material from previous cover letters you’ve written. Be careful to revise such material accordingly. Pay attention to tone, word choice, and transitions, and read your cover letter aloud to assess flow and check for mistakes.

If you want to highlight a skill or accomplishment not previously mentioned in a cover letter, pen it from scratch. Save your post cover letters as resources for future applications.

Finish strong

Your conclusion should summarize why you’re a good fit and include a call to action. Your call to action should prompt the next step—for example, “I hope to discuss the contributions I can make to [company] with you.” And don’t forget to thank the hiring manager for their time.

Conclusions are straightforward, so you can write one for your template and adjust details as necessary.

A personal missive

With these steps, you can quickly and efficiently craft a cover letter for each company you apply to.

A final word of advice: Your cover letter should reflect that you would make a good fit for the company, its culture, and its mission. But don’t sacrifice your identity to sell yourself as someone you aren’t. To properly personalize a cover letter, you need to let your personality shine through.

Search for your next job now:


Back to listing

The Washington Post Jobs Newsletter

Subscribe to the latest news about DC's jobs market