Last week, I read a cover letter that was pretty good at explaining the applicant’s credentials for the position. While I didn’t see the job description, I presumed that the specific job called for the various skills and experience the person cited. That’s good, because key word searches use the job description as a starting point. So definitely list those skills you have that also are called for in the posting.

You can strengthen the letter by stating the very obvious fact that your experience does match, as in “My experience matches the requirements in the job description.” And after you state your experience, say something like “this is the kind of work I’ll do for you.” Employers care whether your past experience is going to help them achieve their future – that’s the only reason they will interview you. If they think your experience is exactly or mostly like what they need, employers are much more likely to pull your resume out of the pile and at least have a conversation with you.

Some people have taken to putting together a brief chart that shows that match. They list the four to five top responsibilities and skills called for in the job and in the next column, indicate how they have used that skill or had that experience. It’s one step further in doing the work for the employer so it is easy for them to see how well you fit their requirements. I don’t know if it’s appropriate for every situation, however. It’s probably most appropriate for:

  • Entry-level jobs where someone is screening quickly and a table will stand out
  • Administrative jobs that require organization and use of Microsoft office (you demonstrate mastery right in your cover letter!)
  • Quite technical jobs that require very specific skills and experience.

(Another way to highlight your match for specialized jobs is by adding a “Core Capabilities” section to your resume that lists the things you do really well, including industry- or job-specific skills, technology, software and processes. It doesn’t make the marriage between you and the job in question, though.)

The main thing I’d add to any letter is the impact of your work. You say you have experience; what was the result of your experience? What did you achieve? What was the outcome? Employers won’t take your word for it that you are experienced. They are looking for evidence that you can stick with something and produce results similar to the results they want.

Lastly, I suggest talking a bit about the company itself. What does it do? Why do you want to work there? Use language from the job description, from the website, to show that you are familiar with the company and its work. State that you want to be part of helping it achieve its goals or mission. Flattery definitely works! And companies now can choose who they want to interview and hire – they usually choose people who say they want to work for the company and give a reason.

In this competitive job market, it pays to give yourself every advantage. So tell them about why you want to work for THEM, how you can solve their problems, and the kind of impact you’ll help them have. Ordinary cover letters talk only about your needs; superlative cover letters focus on the employer’s needs.