Tailor Your Application Materials to Rise Above the Competition

By Erin Wolfram and Melissa Johnson

When applying for jobs, it is important to know your job target and to tailor your resume and cover letter to each position. Although this can be time consuming, taking a more active approach to submitting applications will optimize your documents to demonstrate your interest in the position, highlight your unique qualifications, and ultimately help you rise above the competition.

Tailoring your resume

Once you have an updated version of your resume that demonstrates your key skills, strengths and accomplishments, you will want to make adjustments to your document to tailor it toward specific positions. The following are a few tips on how you can effectively tailor your resume.

Review the job description

For each job, print out a copy of the position description and highlight the following:

• The required and preferred qualifications that match your experience and background.

• The skills, knowledge and abilities included in the job description that you also possess.

Align your qualifications

When you are done, a majority of the job description should be highlighted, which means you are highly qualified. Now you just need to prove it by aligning your qualifications with the content in the position description.

• Compare your annotated job description to your resume, and, if needed, adjust your resume to match the language, skills, experience and strengths you highlighted. For example, if your resume refers to “satisfied customers” and the job description refers to “players,” change your language to “players.”

• You may also find you need to rearrange the order of your resume sections, add or omit information to highlight your most relevant content, or rename your section headers to more closely align with the position.

• If your resume includes a “Career Profile,” “Summary of Qualifications,” and/or “Skills” section, these are great areas to tailor your content, as needed, to each position. 

Tailoring your cover letter

Never submit a generic cover letter with a job application. Your cover letter should be directed to a specific organization, position and contact person. You also want to clearly explain why you are interested in the position, and highlight a few key accomplishments that demonstrate how you are highly qualified. From the very beginning of the letter, you want to draw the reader in and make them want to read your resume to learn more about you. Below are a few tips on how you can effectively tailor your cover letter.

Address your letter to a specific person

Do what you can to find a specific person to address your letter to if it is not in the job posting. 

• Look on the company website for the human resources or department manager.

• Utilize LinkedIn or to find the human resources or department manager.

• Call the organization and ask.

• Address your letter to the hiring manger if you cannot identify a contact.

• Never address a letter “To whom it may concern.”

Express your interest in the position and organization:

Hiring committees are looking for qualified applicants who have a specific reason for wanting the job at the particular organization. By expressing this, you provide valuable information that demonstrates you don’t just want any job; you want that job and know why!

• First, remember to refer to the specific position and organization and how you learned about the opportunity in the opening paragraph.

• Then make a list of the reasons you are interested in the position and organization and how you are uniquely qualified.

•Use the information from your list to express your passion for the position and organization and share the value you will bring if hired.

• Additionally, select a few key accomplishments to share that demonstrate your qualifications to further grab the reader’s attention.

As you find opportunities for which to apply, always be thinking about why you are interested in the position and organization, as well as the unique value you will bring to the organization if hired so you can adequately demonstrate this throughout the application process from beginning to end. It is always worth the extra effort to tailor your application materials to each position for which you apply and will always help you stand out in a positive way.

Erin Wolfram has more than 15 years of experience in career services, and owns and operates Career Advantage Golf (, specializing in career services for those in the turf management field. She has a podcast called A Year of Career: 52 Practical Answers to Your Questions, where she provides quick career and job search advice. Wolfram has a Bachelor of Science in Secondary English Education, Master of Science in Counseling Psychology, Master of Science in Educational Technology, and is a certified professional etiquette consultant. She can be reached at

Melissa Johnson has more than 20 years of experience working with individuals from a variety of careers and industries. She specializes in one-on-one career coaching, resume and cover letter development, and job search assistance. Johnson has a passion for providing individualized support and guidance for each of her clients to ensure they are able to achieve their career goals. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Master of Education in Counseling Psychology.