Anatomy … a Cover Letter: The Fine Points of Writing a Cover Letter

No doubt you’ve written plenty of cover letters. But the way we get jobs is changing fast. These days, more often than not, your word choice will affect not only how it’s received by the person who’s hiring, but also by the software (applicant tracking system, or ATS) that does the initial screening. Here’s how to get noticed by both the humans and the machines.

Get keyword savvy.
You can describe your sterling qualifications in many ways, but your cover letter should be chock-full of the keywords included in the job description—otherwise the software will weed you out before the human can lay eyes on your letter. Before you write, go through the description and highlight important words, such as those used to describe the job’s main responsibilities and the desired skills. Then use them early and often in your letter.

Make a case for yourself.
Too many cover letters read like boilerplate, says career counselor Toni Littlestone of Albany, California—just rehashing recent jobs or reciting a litany of accomplishments. Your letter needs to persuade the hiring manager that you bring the precise mix of skills, experience, and cultural fit to hit the ground running. So include a paragraph that shows you really get what the company needs and that knits together your background with the job’s requirements.

Do lots of research.
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how often it doesn’t happen. The more you know about the company’s recent history, plans, culture, current challenges, and such, the more specific—and convincing—you can be when you describe how your background meshes with the company’s needs.

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