A cover letter can be a powerful tool for landing yourself an interview. It can give a better glimpse into your personality and how you’ll fit with the company culture than a simple resume, and it can give you a chance to provide a context around your achievements.
A poorly-written cover letter, on the other hand, can get your application tossed in a heartbeat. If you want your cover letter to help you, not hurt you, you should avoid these errors.
1. Being too generic
A great cover letter tells the person reading it why you (specifically) are a great candidate for their opening (specifically). If you’re sending a generic cover letter with the company name swapped out, it’s almost worse than sending no cover letter at all. The instant a hiring manager sees the generic letter, he’ll assume you didn’t put much thought into applying for the job.
One great way to customize a cover letter is by highlighting specific requirements from the job ad in the body of the letter. Use each sentence as opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve done your research, you’re detail oriented, and that you have the perfect qualifications for the position. That’s what will help you stand out above the crowd.
Don’t go through all the trouble of writing a personalized cover letter and then address it to Dear Sir/Madam or To Whom It May Concern. Do some online snooping on the organization’s website, or LinkedIn, and find out the name of the hiring manager or recruiter in charge of the job opening.
2. Placing too much emphasis on your weaknesses
If you’re lacking qualifications for the job, it can be tempting to use the cover letter to explain those away – but don’t! Your cover letter should be a dazzling example of how great your skills are, not an apology for what you’re lacking.
A cover letter is essentially a bit of sales writing. You want to effectively demonstrate that the experience and abilities you do have are the perfect match for the job. Watch out for self-defeating phrases like, “I may be under-qualified,” or “Although I’m lacking in these key skills…”
Remember, you’re selling your qualifications to a pro. Be careful not to oversell yourself, or stretch the truth, because the reality will come out almost immediately. If the job requires five years of experience and you only have three, for example, don’t say you have five or apologize for having three. The hiring manager will probably pick up on the two years’ difference herself, but if you’ve done a good enough job selling the rest of your qualifications she may not care.
3. Not proof reading
If you’re applying for multiple jobs, you’re probably repurposing cover letter material – which is totally fine. Just double and triple check the contact information every time you send a letter out. Nothing will get your resume trashed faster than having the wrong company name in the body, or addressing it to the wrong person.
Typos and other sloppy mistakes can be a turnoff, too. If you’re not checking your work when putting your best foot forward, the hiring manager will assume you won’t when you’re working for the company, either.
4. Focusing too much on yourself
Does your cover letter read like a dating site profile? Watch out for mentions of your family, religion, hobbies, and any other personal details that aren’t immediately pertinent to the job you’re applying for. You should always keep the spotlight on your professional achievements, rather than delving into your personal life.
A great cover letter isn’t just about showing off your skills and personality, it’s about demonstrating how those will help the organization. Always try to strike a balance in your cover letter between talking about your qualifications, and talking about how those qualifications will benefit the company. What problems will you solve? How will you contribute to the organization as a whole? How will you make a difference?
Have an impartial friend read your cover letter over before you send it out. If you’re answering those crucial questions well, you’ve got a strong chance at landing an interview.
What are the worst cover letter mistakes you’ve seen? Leave your answers in the comments.