When you apply to jobs online, typically your cover letter is uploaded along with your resume and becomes part of your profile in the employer’s applicant tracking system (ATS). An ATS is basically a searchable database of job candidates. Most big corporations use them, and many mid-sized companies as well.
The employer then searches for key words and phrases related to the position, such as “marketing,” “PeopleSoft,” “human resources generalist,” “led team,” “award” and so on. This generates a ranked list of candidates based on factors such as how often the key words occur and in what context.
(That’s why listing key words doesn’t work nearly as well as using them in sentences or sentence-like bullet points.)
How do you know what the right key words are for your cover letter, resume, LinkedIn profile, etc.? Read several postings for jobs typical of your goal. Highlight or underline the words recruiters are most likely to search for, as in the example below.
(Of course, different recruiters may use different key words, so choosing these is not an exact science. Give it your best shot, and you’ll be ahead of many job seekers who don’t even try.)
Eastern Regional Sales Manager, XYZ Enterprises Inc.
Position Summary: Manage and lead the activities of independent sales reps (field reps).
Position Responsibilities: Lead field reps to promote and sell company’s manufactured brands to retail accounts. Implement all distribution and merchandising objectives including new items.
Develop programs and sales tools for field reps to increase sales within their territories.
… and so on.
List these key words, and then prioritize the list. Give extra priority to key words that:
- appear often
- appear in a “Summary” section at the top of the posting
- appear in a “Requirements” section
- appear in the job title
Of course, the job title itself is one of the most important “key words”!
Now include the most important key words in your cover letter (and resume, LinkedIn profile and other career marketing materials) – while keeping the letter short. Yes, it’s a challenge – that’s why so many people hire me to help them write these materials.
For more tips on writing cover letters, read my post Cover Letters – What’s the Point?
Be smart about cover letters and get a job faster!