A template for a tailored cover letter

Having a great cover letter isn’t nearly enough. As in “a” singular cover letter. In this job market you must tailor each and every cover letter and resume to the job you are applying for. 

When I was on the job market after grad school, there was an opening in my field, in an organization where I had volunteered for a semester. When I applied, I didn’t even get a first-round interview. Why? When I asked my intern supervisor for feedback, she said that in order to make it past the intial screening, I needed to “be sure to clearly and unequivocally address every single minimum and desired qualification.”

What she meant was that the hiring committee needed an apples-to-apples comparison. A way to use your application as a checklist against their job ad. That makes it easy for them to easily and quickly calculate how you stack up against each and every qualification they are screening for.

You Need Your Cover Letter to Cover your Bases

So here’s my step-by-step for you for a template today to help you avoid my mistake. 

  1. Copy the job ad into a new document. Save that. 
  2. Break up all of the minimum and desired qualifications into new lines (and for some, you may even need to parse into phrases). Treat each of these as if they were “headers.”
  3. Under each qualification header, jot down what you will use to attest to the relevant knowledge, experience and/or skill that they’re looking for. 
  4. Go ahead and expand on your notes as if you were building out an outline. Don’t worry about length at this point.
  5. Edit as needed for length and content. Try to pull from a variety of examples, rather than repeatedly relying on only one thing to attest to your qualifications. 
  6. Now you’ve got a solid first draft. You’ll still need to re-read and format before you apply. 🙂  

I’ve even made you an example of steps 1-3 that you can find and use for your own applications here

Need more advanced tips? Check out “Before you write a Cover Letter for a Nonfaculty Job, Try This Exercise”, an article from Chronicle of Higher Ed.

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