A Radical Approach for Crafting Winning Cover Letters

When you prepare job applications, don’t hastily dash off generic, sloppy cover letters in the last minute like most of your competitors will.  Instead, take the time and trouble to tailor to each target job a concise, compelling cover letter. Why? Because an impressive cover letter will probably make a great first impression to hiring managers — which is key to landing an interview.


The best way to craft an A-plus cover letter is to include in it a fast-read “Your Needs/My Qualifications table.” This type of table will visually align the requirements of your target job with your credentials. It will thereby instantly prove to hiring managers — even if they only skim your letter without reading it word for word — that you’re uniquely qualified for the target job and would therefore be successful on the job.

See an example of a cover letter with a “Your Needs/My Qualifications table” here.


  1. Identify the top five to seven requirements of your target job from its vacancy announcement. For example, do these requirements include communication skills, leadership skills, or knowledge of a specialized field?
  2. Write a one to three sentence summary of your best professional and educational qualifications that prove that you meet each of your target job’s top requirements. For example, prove that you fulfill the communications requirements of your target job by citing the number of years of communications experience you have or the number of publications or high-level presentations you have delivered. Prove that you have supervisory expertise by citing the number of staffers you have supervised and the leadership trainings you have completed. And prove you possess the appropriate specialized field by identifying your relevant degrees.
  3. Create a Word table that features two columns. Label the top of the left column “Your Needs” and label the top of the right column “My Qualifications.” (If necessary, Google for instructions on how to create a Word table.)
  4. Fill out the table by entering each of the top requirements for your target job in the “Your Needs” column and entering the summary of your best professional and educational qualifications for each job requirement in the adjacent cell in the “Your Needs” column.
  5. Also include in your table additional relevant, desirable qualifications you offer that are not specifically requested in your target job’s vacancy announcement. For example, if appropriate, add “Outstanding Reputation” to the “Your Needs” column along with the following text in the “My Qualifications” column. “Consistently earn exemplary annual evaluations.”
  6. Omit from your table any requirements for your target job that you lack.


Although including a table in a cover letter may seem like a radical approach, I can almost guarantee that — if skillfully crafted — you table will help you win over hiring managers. I know this because I have personally used this approach numerous times to land interviews and used it to coach dozens of job-seekers into new jobs. What’s more, many of my clients were specifically told by their interviewers that their tabular cover letter helped them land their interviews.

When you apply for jobs, you will probably be the only applicant who will submit a tabular cover letter.  Therefore, your cover letter’s striking design will visually stand out from the pack of visually indistinguishable cover letters submitted by your competitors. And your cover letter will impress hiring managers — not because it incorporated gimmicks, but because of its systematic organization and powerful content.


Your table should be preceded by several lively sentences opening the letter that identify your current job and express enthusiasm for your target job. After your opener, introduce your table with a sentence such as “Here is a summary of my Qualifications:”

Close your letter with your contact information and a sentence describing your eagerness for an interview, and an expression of thanks of being considered for the position.

If possible, ruthlessly edit your cover letter to fit in one page.

By Lily Whiteman, author of How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job

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