In the comments section of our "Ask a search-committee member" post from several months ago, GE asks:
I'm a graduate student entering the job market for the first time, and I'm finding it a little bit baffling to develop a cover letter. The advice on Philosopher's Cocoon and a few other online sources is all pretty consistent: you have an introductory paragraph, a current research paragraph, a publication/presentation/future research paragraph, and a fit paragraph. But a lot of jobs specifically ask that you highlight particular things in your cover letter. Often this overlaps with things that you're already putting in a cover letter, or it can be added in the fit paragraph, but it's hard for me to believe that if a search committee specifically asked for you to speak to your experiences advocating for diversity and inclusion, for instance, that they want to read through a whole bunch of stuff about your research before you get there. In those cases, should I rearrange my cover letter to highlight that stuff sooner? Or should I *only* be addressing the requested topics in my cover letter in those cases?
Good questions. I'll be curious to hear what other search committee members think.
So, at least as a default, I would think one probably should not rearrange the order of one's letter to address things in the job-ad. The one exception to this, I think, is that if the entire job-ad makes it clear that X is a central focus of the job. So, for example, this postdoc is advertised as a fellowship for faculty diversity. In that case, I would think it probably best to lead one's letter with something addressing that. In contrast, this postdoc says the post especially welcomes applicants whose research addresses issues of diversity, oppression, etc.--so in that case I would think the order of the letter should be standard, and the content simply address the things the job advertised for in one's research paragraph, etc.
In other words, I would think it is only in fairly rare cases where one should dramatically alter the order of a cover letter. The more important thing--speaking as someone who has served on several search committees--is that the letter as a whole speaks to the job ad and reflect the values and priorities of the institution being applied to.
But these are just my thoughts. What are yours?