Effective cover letters are tailored to an individual job or company. If you email a generic cover letter, you lose the chance to connect the dots for a potential employer. With a customized cover letter, you can highlight specific skills and attributes. You can draw parallels between what you have and what the employer wants.

Still, you must respond to job opportunities fast. My system of cover-letter writing combines speed and tailoring. A little advance work will allow you to respond quickly, yet flexibly, to opportunities as soon as they crop up.

1. Define the different paths you are willing to travel
A graphic designer for a boutique store may be looking for another graphic design job or he may want to move up to production manager for a larger company. If jobs are scarce, he may be willing to do simple production work. Or, he may want to shift gears entirely.

Be aware of alternative routes (or detours!) you may choose to take with your career.

2. Write a paragraph that sums up your skills and accomplishments
This paragraph will serve as the foundation of every cover letter you write. Use more persuasive, subjective language than on your resume. Phrases like I am highly qualified or I have proven success are appropriate. Evaluate the experience on your resume: As my resume shows, I have worked in all areas of the graphic arts.

Borrow phrases from sample cover letters:
Sample Cover Letters
More Samples
Even More Samples

3. Add a different goal statement for each career path you are exploring                            Our graphic designer might write:

I am seasoned graphic designer with good leadership skills, ready to move into a management position,


As a graphic designer with five years experience creating brochures, retail signs and other promotional material, I am a good fit for your open position.

4. Create two variations of your cover-letter base
Variation I: underscores skills, responsibilities and accomplishments in previous jobs as well as your most recent position

Variation II: emphasizes the transferability of skills and personal attributes

5. Adapt the right base letter to the job you want
When you find a job you want to apply for, zero in on the qualifications listed in the job description. All great cover letters must address the qualifications requested.

Assume the employer has listed the required skills and experience in order of importance. Ask yourself, from top to bottom, how many of the qualifications do you have? Usually, your skills will fall into one of four categories:
Exact match
More responsibility in your industry
Similar responsibility in a different industry
Missing some of the required skills

6. Use your basic cover letter for a job that is an exact match
Since your skills fit the position exactly, bullet-point the job requirements on your cover letter in the same order as stated in the description. Bulleted responses, using the same words and phrases, will give an employer the eureka moment she was waiting for.

Mention an accomplishment or two to ensure a call for an interview.

7. Use Variation I for a job with more responsibility in the same industry
Call out skills from your past jobs and your present job to address the job requirements. Use bullets if you have most of the qualifications; write in paragraphs if you are missing one or more of the required skills.

Be aware--most hiring managers take the safe route, favoring candidates making a lateral move. If you are looking for a promotion, be wary of ads that require someone who can hit the ground running.

You will have to use your best powers of persuasion. Explain in paragraph form how you are poised to take on more responsibility. Emphasize accomplishments.

8. Use Variation II for a job with similar responsibility in a different industry
Hiring managers lean toward candidates who come from the same industry. To overcome that bias, emphasize the skills that transfer from one industry to the other in your cover letter. Point out personal interest in the industry

In the world of news video editing, for example, most employers are adamant that editors have news room experience. In that case, you might call out your knowledge of current affairs and your ability to work quickly in your cover letter.

9. Use Variation II if you are missing some of the required skills
Do not use bullets in this cover letter. Extract responsibilities from older jobs to address the requirements you meet. Point out similar skills and describe how they're related. If a job match is a stretch, write a little tap dance like you did on essay exams in school. Focus on your attributes rather than skills. This job might be a long shot, but what have you got to lose?

10. Close your letter with a strong punch
In your closing sentences, state how you would be an asset to the company, rather than how much you want to work there. State how you will follow up.

* Right: I would like an opportunity to discuss how my skills fit your company's needs. I will contact you next week to follow up.
* Wrong: I think this job is perfect for me. I will wait to hear from you.

11. Mix and match the best stuff from all your cover letters
Once you've built an arsenal of letters, picking a cover letter will feel like going into your closet and picking out the right shirt to wear.

Think of your cover letters like Legos. Just snap the right building blocks together. Start with a solid base and add the right specifics. Your saved versions of previously sent letters may only need a tweak or two for a future application.