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How to personalize your cover letter

By Beth Braccio Hering,
In addition to traditional closing words to thank the recipient, add an individual touch by stating what your next steps will be.
In addition to traditional closing words to thank the recipient, add an individual touch by stating what your next steps will be.
  • Make a strong first impression by personalizing your cover letter
  • Flattery goes a long way; tell the employer why you think they're great
  • The cover letter is a space where you can bring specific experiences to life

( -- When it comes to job applications, the best strategy in this tough economy is to do as many of them as quickly as possible and hope for the best, right?

Not so fast.

If the recipient's name is the only thing you are changing each time you send out a cover letter, you might be giving potential employers the impression that you are simply interested in finding a job -- any job -- and don't really care about their specific company. You also may be passing up a golden opportunity to make a strong first impression that will entice employers to want to know you better.

Does a potential employer actually notice a personalized cover letter?

"I had the opportunity to ask a group of employers this very question just a couple of months ago," states Janet Daley, director of internship programs at Stevenson University in Stevenson, Maryland. "Each one said, 'Yes, definitely personalize your cover letter! Make us feel special!' Showing the employer that you spent some time researching the organization and demonstrating why you would make an excellent candidate for this particular job can really set you apart." How do you get experience if nobody will hire you without any?

Remember, though, that you are not a desperate suitor trying to lure a date to the prom. You are a professional trying to show why you and the prospective employer are a good match.

Deborah Brown-Volkman of East Moriches, New York, a career coach and author of "Don't Blow It! The Right Words for the Right Job," suggests that you state why you like this particular company. "Rather than go on and on about how great you are, instead tell the employer why you think they are great. Sincere flattery goes a long way and shows that you have taken the time to get to know the employer in more detail."

Make them want to know you better

While your résumé presents a more thorough picture of your educational and work-related background, the cover letter is a space where you can bring specific experiences to life. The line on your résumé about being president of your college's environmental club may impress someone hiring for a "green" job, but chances are you'll appear much more interesting (and capable) if you also discuss in your cover letter how your group lobbied successfully for changes to make the campus more biker-friendly.

"Make the connection in your cover letter," Daley advises. "When the employer is finished reading, he should believe that you are exactly the person he is looking for."

When presenting yourself in the cover letter, try these ideas:

• Use the job description and the company information you have gathered as guidelines. See which phrases keep popping up (such as "team player" or "self-starter"). Chances are those are qualities the reviewer will be looking for evidence of in your letter. Keep your eyes on solar companies

• Present relevant examples of what you've done that match what they seem to want. Brown-Volkman notes that bullets work well in making your accomplishments easy to read.

• Show your passion. For instance, if you're applying to be a paralegal at a firm specializing in environmental law, let them know why you're choosing this particular legal field.

How personal is too personal?

"Employers don't need to know that you're an Elvis fan who makes an annual pilgrimage to Graceland, unless of course you're applying for a position at the Memphis landmark," states Alana Jardis Hentges, associate director of career and employment services at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. "Instead of thinking about it as a 'personalized' cover letter, I recommend that candidates think of it as an 'individualized' cover letter."

When individualizing a cover letter, here are some things to consider:

• Don't discuss personal setbacks.

• Keep the tone and emphasis professional.

• Stay away from personal information that is not related to the job.

• Don't go into why you are switching industries; save that for the interview. Get the most from a fall-back job

Wrapping it up

Now that you've presented yourself as a great candidate, let the employer know in the last paragraph that you're eager to learn more about the position. In addition to traditional closing words that give contact information and thank the recipient for her time, add an individual touch by stating what your next steps will be.

"If you will wait for their reply, tell them that. If you will be following up, tell them when they can expect to hear from you," Brown-Volkman says. "Then, whatever you put down, make sure you do what you say you will do."

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