Cover letters give you a golden opportunity to get across your passion, communication skills and technical smarts, all of which should make the reviewer want to take the next step and look at your resume. Unfortunately, most of them blow it by making one of these mistakes.
Sending a blatantly generic cover letter that just regurgitates the information in your resume won’t cut it. The only message reviewers will receive is that you didn’t think their job was worth any real thought and effort.
To fix that, reference the specific position and company in the first paragraph. If someone referred you, be sure to mention that, too. Then, show that you’ve done your homework by mentioning some of the company’s issues or pain points.
And be specific, says Laura Smith-Proulx, a resume writer in Arvada, Colo. “Whether the company is experiencing growing pains or needs to cut costs, show them that you understand their issues and explain how you can help.”
No. 2: Generic Salutation
Don’t use an impersonal greeting or salutation like To Whom It May Concern or Dear Sir or Madam. Track down the hiring manager and address your letter to him or her by name. If you can’t do that by searching the Web or calling the company, try something like Dear Members of the Selection Team at ABC Company or Dear Project Manager. They’re not ideal, but they’re better.
If you don’t like those suggestions, simply reference the job title and jump right into your opening paragraph.
No. 3: Tacky Attention-Grabbing Headline
Starting off with headlines like these are simply going to hurt you.
DBA Available Immediately!
Actually, they might get you some attention, though being passed around the office as a joke isn’t the kind of notice you’re looking for. So don’t be cute. Use a crisp opening line like this:
After reading about ABC Company’s recent triumphs in the global marketplace, I’m certain that my diverse experience as a user experience architect can help you to maintain your positive momentum.
No. 4: Tone is Too Formal or Informal
The key is to demonstrate both your personality and enthusiasm without violating the tone of a formal business letter. Use adjectives to describe your activities and expertise and avoid contractions, words you don’t normally use, slang, acronyms and industry buzzwords. Remember, a cover letter is a blank canvas. It’s your chance to prove that you really do possess excellent communication skills.
No. 5: It’s All About You
You may be looking to code like crazy or create killer mobile apps, but unless you spell out how you’ll benefit the company, you’re not going to generate much interest. “Don’t make too many ‘I’ statements or focus on your own goals,” says Jason Reece, writing center manager for Washington State-based Career Perfect Resume Writing Services. “Show how your technical skills and experience create value by meeting the company’s needs.”
No: 6: Being Wishy-Washy
If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. Use words like confident, sure and convinced to describe your abilities and how you plan to hit the ground running. If you use specific examples and quotes from managers and co-workers to validate your claims, you won’t come off as cocky. For example:
After increasing revenues at XYZ Company by 35 percent over the last three years, I’m confident that my data base management and analysis skills can help ABC Corporation penetrate new markets by bolstering the efforts of your sales and marketing team.
No. 7: Telling Instead of Showing
No 8: Including Inappropriate Information
Your cover letter is definitely the place to discuss an employment gap or desire to change careers. But it’s not the place to vent about your recent divorce, the issues that led to your termination or your disdain for noisy work environments. Also, don’t include salary expectations unless they’re required. At this stage, employers are looking for reasons to screen out candidates. Don’t give them any ammunition.
No. 9: Rambling
Keep your letter focused on your relevant experience and skills, and make sure you do it in no more than 300 words. Don’t wander off track, tailor your message toward the job description and always remember the manager’s needs.
No. 10: Failing to Close
If you’re squeamish about making a bold closing statement, just be polite and re-cap your value before outlining your next step. For example:
I’m very interested in the systems analyst position and confident that I can benefit the entire enterprise by identifying and resolving pressing hardware and networking issues. I will call next week to arrange a time to meet so we can discuss my plan to surpass your expectations.
Yes, it might sound like a sales letter. But when you get right down to it, that’s what a cover letter is. It’s your first shot at convincing the employer that you’re a serious candidate who understands their business and their challenges — and knows how to address them.