How to Tailor Your Cover Letter & Resume for Different Positions

Resume, cover letter, interview, repeat—finding a job or internship can often feel like an endless uphill battle.  With the tough competition in today’s job market, you want to make sure that you stand out from the crowd, but how? Short of being an Olympic athlete or the daughter of the company’s CEO, the best way to stand out is to tailor your resume and cover letter to each position you apply for.  

Christy Dunston, a career counselor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, always encourages students to tailor their resumes and cover letters.  A generic resume and cover letter just don’t make you stand out, but these tips and tricks can help you make a great first impression and land your next dream job or internship!

List Appropriate Skills

To show potential employers that you are the perfect fit for their position, include skills on your resume that mirror the assets they are seeking in an employee.  “See how your experiences match up with what they are looking for because that’s what people pick up on as they look at your resume,” Dunston says.  “They really pick up on the experiences you’ve had so you really want to make sure you tailor those to the position you’re applying for.”

Alex Rizk, a collegiette at UNC-Chapel Hill, used this tactic in her cover letters to land a summer internship.  “With each cover letter I emphasized different strengths and abilities,” she says.  “You want to focus on what each employer’s interests are and hone in on your strengths that are compatible with that business.”  

You can usually find the employer’s desired skills somewhere in the job description or application.  Make sure to include these attributes – as long as you have them! – and any others that you think are relevant to the position.  Don’t waste precious space, or your potential employer’s time, by including irrelevant characteristics.

The career services department at UNC-Chapel Hill always encourages students to include any computer program and foreign language capabilities in the skills section your resume.  Other than that, use the information in the job description and your best judgment to decide what skills are relevant.  For example, your CPR certification could be relevant if you were applying for a position as a lifeguard, camp counselor, or a health care internship, but it probably wouldn’t matter if you were applying to an office job or corporate internship.  

Use Your Connections

Make a connection with your potential employer by mentioning a mutual friend or acquaintance in your resume or cover letter.  This is where networking pays off! 

Have you previously worked for the company in any capacity? Do you have a (reliable) reference from within the organization?  Did you speak with a representative from the company at a job or internship fair on your campus?  If so, be sure to include this!  Dunston says this can be an important part of your application.  “If someone referred you to the position, you should definitely include that in the cover letter,” she says.  

Dunston’s department, University Career Services, encourages students to use the first sentence of their cover letters to state their connection with the potential employer.  “The best introduction to a potential employer is to remind him or her of the face-to-face or telephone conversation you have already had relative to your job search or to mention that you have heard about the job vacancy from a friend or other contact that works for the organization,” Dunston says.

For example:

Dear Hiring Manager:

We met through Jane Smith in your company’s hiring department and discussed a summer internship with your organization. I am eager to follow up with my official application.  

Any connection you have with an organization can catch an employer’s eye and increase your chances of landing an interview, so be sure to emphasize it!

Address a Specific Person

If the application or job description identifies a specific individual responsible for the hiring process, be sure to address your cover letter and other application materials to that person.  Even if the application doesn’t identify a specific person, you can still make your greeting more person than “to whom it may concern.”  

If the company doesn’t give a specific name, Dunston suggests using “Dear Hiring Manager,” or “Dear HR Recruiter” instead.  “Even though it’s not a specific person, you’re still addressing it to someone,” she says.

Another option is to call the company directly to ask whom you should address your cover letter to. “I think sometimes people forget that the company has a phone number and you could just call and ask,” Dunston says.  Reaching out to the company in this way could also show the person reading your application that you are taking the process seriously!    

Talk About Why You Want the Job

Tailor and enhance your cover letter by explaining to the company exactly why you want to work for them. “You want to tell a little bit about why you want to work for that company,” says Dunston. “That can be different for each company you’re applying to.”  

To do this, think about what appeals to you about the specific company or position. How will you benefit from the position, and what do you hope to contribute to the company? 

If the company is small, you could explain why you’d like to work for a small company, and vice versa if the company is large. If the organization is—or works closely with—a nonprofit, you could explain why the organization’s cause is important to you. Ultimately, you want to show the potential employer that you know what their company is all about, and define specifically why you are eager to work for them.

Use Keywords 

Before applying for any position, it is important to research the organization. “I tell students to look at the job description, responsibilities, and qualifications and pick out some of those keywords,” Dunston says.  

If you notice any repeated words or concepts on the company’s application or website, be sure to include those in your resume or cover letter. This will show the employer that you’ve done your homework and that your ideas are in line with the organization’s mission.  

For example, a cover letter tailored to an HC position would repeatedly use the word “collegiettes” and might read something like this:

Dear Hiring Manager:

I am writing today to express my interest in becoming a Contributing Writer for Her Campus.  I have followed HC’s stories for some time now, and I am eager to join the organization to refine my writing skills and serve my fellow collegiettes.  

Include a Specific Objectives Statement

“If you aren’t writing a cover letter, then you want to include an objectives statement in your resume,” Dunston says.  This objectives statement is a great place to tailor your resume by telling the specific company that you want to work for them.  If you want an internship, say so! After all, that is the purpose of your application, right?

“The objectives statement should be simple and to the point,” Dunston says. She gives the following examples:

Seeking a summer internship at Organization X. 
Obtain a position in X, using my skills Y and Z.

“If you have to write a cover letter,” Dunston says, “then you don’t necessarily need an objectives statement because your cover letter is going to cover that.” If you do decide to include a position-specific objectives statement, though, make sure you send in the right resume!  “I’ve seen a resume where the objectives statement was completely different for the position the person was applying for,” Dusnton says. “It was like, ‘Well, I guess they don’t want this position,’ and that’s not good.”  

The intense competition for internships and jobs can make the application process seem daunting, and it is important to take advantage of any and all opportunities to make your application stand out.  The resume and cover letter are typically standard documents, but these simple tips will give you a specialized, standout application and have you on your way to the interview!

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About The Author

Alex is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is double-majoring in Journalism and Spanish. Originally from Virginia Beach, Virginia, she likes to say that you can take the girl out of the beach, but you can't take the beach out of the girl. She plans to pursue a career in public relations, and she may even do so speaking Spanish! She has a serious case of wanderlust and big dreams of traveling the world. For now, though, Alex enjoys cheering on her Tar Heels, heading home to the beach in the summer, and writing for HC, of course! Keep up with Alex by visiting her website at www.alexgladu.wordpress.com.

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