A good cover letter and resume will make it easy to see how your skills and experience match an employer's job description. Many companies use automated tools to scan cover letters and resumes for keywords that match their job descriptions, then automatically reject applications that don't have those words.
But even when they don't use these tools, writing as if they do will help you concisely convey why you’re qualified when a real person is sitting in front of your application. That's why you should always strive to use the most important words and phrases from the job description—verbatim—in your cover letter and resume.
So before we even start writing our cover letter and resume, we'll do some prep work to identify these key words and phrases.
Each time you apply for a job, start by taking the job description and making a list of the key words and phrases.
For example, take this job description:
Acquia is the open source digital experience company. We provide the world's most ambitious brands with technology (built around Drupal) that allows them to embrace innovation and create customer moments that matter. At Acquia we believe in the power of community and collaboration - giving our customers the freedom to build tomorrow on their terms.
Acquia is looking for technical advisors to join our Support Engineering team to help us provide exceptional service to our growing customer base, from Fortune 500 clients to Government agencies. Acquia Support is a high-energy team that offers opportunities for growth and new challenges in a collaborative, supportive atmosphere – we’re dedicated and fun!
- Experience with Linux - Command Line and Git is important
- Conversational understanding of LAMP and/or IIS/SQL, network protocol layers, security layers and domain models
- Site development and/or PHP development
- Passion for the web, open-source development, particularly Drupal, and for helping us continue to build our community and Acquia as a whole
- Excellent interpersonal and communication skills
Skills and Attributes:
- 2+ years of experience in technical customer support or a client engagement position preferred A compulsion for creating order out of chaos, and a penchant for turning over all the rocks and resolving issues thoroughly (i.e., code for being proactive and detail-oriented)
- Aptitude for building, configuring, and troubleshooting a variety of challenging technical issues for a diverse enterprise customer base
- Strives to consistently achieve excellence in work delivered
- Performs with (internal and external) customer satisfaction in mind, while not compromising the integrity of the work. Constantly questions: “How will this benefit the customer?”
- Goes beyond their day-to-day work to assist customers in a positive manner. Takes initiative to improve outcomes, processes, or measurements.
- Takes on additional responsibilities fills in gaps. Owns deliverables, accountable for results. Recognizing when it's appropriate to jump in and own it, and also when to provide support and collaboration.
- Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science or related discipline is a plus, though relevant experience on the job is just fine
We can copy this description into a document, then turn it into a list of key words and phrases.
Here are the ones from the Requirements section:
And the ones from the Skills and Attributes section:
There are a couple terms you might not be familiar with, like domain models and IIS, that you'll want to look up so that you can address them. (IIS is Microsoft's web server, and domain models are the way that programmers group together code, such as by creating objects in object-oriented design.)
Next, we'll make a master list of experiences from past jobs, volunteer service, and education. We'll add as many descriptive bullet points as we can think of for each experience. A great way to start is by looking at job postings for key words and phrases and use that wording too. Since we already have a job posting right in from of us, let's start framing our experience in our master list by using similar wording from it.
Here's an example of how it could look:
Epicodus, C#/React Track, 2016
- About Epicodus
- Completed full-time, 27-week program in web and open source development.
- Weekly code reviews on independent projects.
- Hard Skills
- Comfortable with the command line
- Used git and github for development
- SQL databases
- Domain models
- React.js, Redux
- Best practices
- Behavior Driven Development
- Why Epicodus?
- Passion for the web
- Interest in open-source development
- Desire for self-improvement.
- Organized potlucks.
- Helped students in newer cohorts with troubleshooting.
- Interpersonal and communication skills
- Worked in pairs daily to design and problem solve coding projects.
- Team Week
Oakland Community College, AA Criminal Justice, 2009-2010
- 3.5 GPA
- Honors Program
Web Development Intern, Digital Designs, 2016
- Site development
- Styled widgets with responsive design
- Web site development with PHP.
- Learned PHP on the job and by studying at night
- Relevant experience on the job
- Developed a dashboard site for project managers to see statuses and blockers.
- Collaborated closely with project managers to ensure dashboard met their needs
- Made pull requests
Technical Customer Support Representative, Healthcare.gov, 2012-2015
- Technical customer support
- Responsible for solving challenging technical issues related to healthcare coverage
- Assisted new customers in navigating their accounts
- Client engagement
- Interviewed clients to spot pain points in navigating our website
- Resolved issues thoroughly for a diverse customer base.
- Proactively brought up problems the customer may not anticipated
- Customer satisfaction
- Consistently in the top 10% of representatives for customer satisfaction
- Related Buzzwords:
- Customer Satisfaction
- Accountable for results
- Building, configuring, and troubleshooting
Barista, Lil' Joe's Coffeehouse, 2010-2012
- Attentive to co-worker morale.
- Contributed to fun energy while getting the job done
- Decorated store for holidays and special events.
- Attentive to customers with unique requests
- Made coffee and various coffee drinks in a fast-paced setting
- Improved inventory tracking system that eliminated shortages
- Created order out of chaos during our busiest hours.
- Created order out of chaos inventory system to eliminate dairy shortages
Hold on to your master list of experiences. Continue to add new experiences as you think of them and as you grow as a developer. This master list will never be final so it's okay if you feel you don't have everything right now. Refer to your master list every time you apply for a job. Attach new key words and phrases from later job postings you find relevant to a past experience. This list will make the process of writing tailored resumes and cover letters that much easier every time you apply to a job.
When you apply to a job, compare the job posting to your list of experiences and make a list of any missing skills. It may be important to address these gaps in your cover letter later. Based on this job posting with Acquia, our list may look something like this:
- Network protocol layers
- Security layers
Now, we're actually ready to start working on our cover letter and resume!
Lesson 5 of 17
Last updated February 17, 2021