Always write a tailored cover letter. Always write a tailored cover letter. Always write a tailored cover letter.
I wrote that three times hoping that folks will be three times as likely to follow the advice! And, as basic as this advice seems to some, it’s often (unfortunately) ignored. I have alluded to this fact in a previous blog post on customizing application documents, but I screened literally tens of thousands of applications when I worked in human resources and was always shocked by the number of people who failed to write a cover letter tailored to the position. Some even used templates they found online (easily discovered through a simple Google search). Although some hiring managers care little about cover letters, I have known others to automatically reject candidates who submitted generic cover letters.
Writing a tailored cover letter does not just mean referring to the position title and company name in your opening line. It also means thoughtfully explaining why you are interested in and well-suited for a particular position. For example, a line like “As someone deeply interested in the questions that [your company/department] seeks to address, I would love to apply my skill set in [competency] and [competency] towards your team’s work” should work well in applications tailored to positions in research and/or activism.
Obviously, crafting the appropriate wording can be hard, especially if you aren’t confident in your writing skills. I understand that, so I welcome anyone seeking assistance to register on the blog’s discussion forum; I am happy to help!