Cover letters are the bane of job applications. You’ve already dedicated time and attention to perfecting your resume, sorted through droves of job descriptions, mentally changed careers at least a dozen times (“Hmmm, I wonder if I can take a few IT classes and become a programmer even though my background is in art history…” ) and calculated exactly how underpaid you can afford to be. But for those few available jobs that seem to be just the right fit, you’d have given up long ago. And, after all that, you now have to write a personalized, concise, confident yet realistic cover letter that will make the company hire you? Yes, you do.
The cover letter is one of the most important parts of the hiring process and not to be taken lightly. A good cover letter can distinguish you from the other candidates with similar credentials and deserves your effort to get it right. Otherwise, you’ll end up resorting to common cover letter cliches which will likely get your resume pitched to the bottom of the pile.
Here are some cover letter cliches to avoid:
Making a generalized salutation such as “Dear Sir or Madam”, “To Whom it May Concern”. With a little research, you should be able to find out who the hiring manager is and address him or her directly.
Writing a stock cover letter. If you make a stock cover letter, it will show. Do research about the company where you’re applying. Address your qualifications that are specifically relevant to this job. For example, highlighting your performance as a waiter at a restaurant is irrelevant when you’re applying for a job as a translator. Be specific, not general.
Re-writing your resume. The cover letter should address things that are not in your resume such as qualities that would specifically benefit the company you’re applying to, achievements you’ve earned in past employment that are relevant to this job, statistics and results that will catch the attention of the hiring manager.
Being too formal or too casual. Don’t be too familiar (“This is the most awesome job opportunity for me! I can’t wait for us to start working together!”) but don’t be stiff either (I have attached my resume for your perusal). The cover letter should project your confidence in your skills and experiences. Use simple, professional language to get your message across.
Writing a novel instead of a cover letter. The cover letter should be brief, a page or less. Paragraphs should be two or three sentences maximum. Don’t write three or four pages detailing every job or responsibility you’ve ever had since you started your paper route at 13. Only write about what’s relevant to the job you’re applying for.
Admitting to being unqualified. If you are recent college graduate, it can be difficult to come up with relevant examples of your experiences. But finding anything that qualifies you is better than saying you’re not qualified. Instead of saying, “I know I don’t have any translating experience, but I really want this job and will work hard to earn it.” say “I’ve spent the past four years studying Portuguese, have traveled to Lisbon to do a month-long immersion course, and have translated the website of my friend into Portuguese which you can visit here: www…”. Highlight what you have done instead of what you haven’t had the opportunity to do yet.
Being selfish. Don’t focus too much about how happy you would be if you could work for this company or how great this opportunity is for you. Put yourself in the position of the hiring managers who you’re writing to. Think about the things that would make them happy such as results and achievements you’ve earned at past that would benefit their company. What do you have to offer them? Focus on that.
Forgetting to proofread. Spelling mistakes are common but fatal to make on a cover letter. Take the time to proofread. If you’re a lousy proofreader, ask a friend to proofread it for you.
Failing to ask for an interview. The hiring manager has the responsibility of sorting through resumes, reading boring cover letters (not yours, of course) and now they also have to take the initiative to offer you an interview? Ask for it. Say: “I would like to interview for this position. Please contact me at 555-5555 to schedule a meeting.”
For further reading on cover letter do’s and don’ts, check out these sites:
For detailed cover letter guidance:
Cari Bennette, content writer at JetWriters and freelance blogger. She has more than 4 years experience in ghost writing and providing editing help to students and recent graduates. You can contact her on Twitter.