Cover letters can be the difference between an interview and a rejection letter. While cover letters are not always required, it is a good idea to include one when you can — it shows that you took the time to personalize your application for a specific job. While your resume should highlight most of your achievements, your cover letter allows interviewers to see into your personality and skills, and, sometimes, to determine if they even want to look over your resume.
Cover letters should be brief but specific, as well as unique: Don’t just reiterate what is already on your resume. In addition to carefully constructing a concise but effective cover letter, there are many things you should avoid when writing it. Certain mistakes will likely guarantee that you will miss out on an interview. Here are five things you should avoid so that you don’t kill your cover letter.
1. Not proofreading carefully
Many students claim that writing, grammar, and literature classes are pointless in the real world, but this isn’t true at all. Most employers are put off by consistent grammatical errors, and some employers will throw out a resume if they even find one error. When employers have many cover letters to look over, they don’t have time to try to decipher what you are saying. In addition, if they see too many errors they will think you are lazy or don’t care enough about the job to take the time to proofread your cover letter.
Also, poor proofreading of your cover letter gives potential employers a peek into your future job performance, and most employers want employees who can write. You will most likely have to correspond with clients or other coworkers once you get a job, and to do so effectively, you need strong writing skills.
2. Not keeping your cover letter short
There is absolutely no reason that your cover letter should be too long — it should be one page and divided into three to four paragraphs. If you make your cover letter too long, you risk having busy employers skip it completely or skim it briefly but miss the critical information that you include. Your cover letter should cover your qualifications, your interest in the job, and a quick thank you for the reviewer’s time. Avoid long sentences or examples that could easily be explained in your interview, and be sure to highlight only the most important part of your resume. Don’t repeat everything in your job history — that’s what your resume is for.
3. Not customizing your cover letter
It can be tempting to come up with a form cover letter for similar jobs. While this is an acceptable idea in theory, you need to be very careful when using a form cover letter over and over again. If you simply say that you want a job in the field, most reviewers will see right through that. Try to make each cover letter customized to the particular company and job. Even if you only change a few key points to highlight your interest in the particular job and your specific related experience, it will make a difference. If you simply change the job title and company name in every cover letter for a similar job, you risk having your potential employer throw your cover letter in the trash.
4. Talking too much about yourself
Your cover letter should highlight your best work attributes, including any skills and experiences that you have for the particular job you are applying for. However, if you talk too much about yourself, you risk looking like you are bragging instead of highlighting your ability to do the job well. If you use “I” too much, you also risk looking egocentric. Your cover letter is not a chance to share your entire autobiography. Use your cover letter to quickly highlight your skills. Instead of vague explanations like “I am a hard worker,” give clear but quick and specific examples. Also make sure that you talk about the company itself, and if possible, why the company seems like a great place to work. Focusing on the company for part of your letter will help you avoid looking too self-centered.
5. Being lazy
You should include a cover letter whenever possible. Unless you are filling out a form online and there is no way to attach a cover letter, you should always include one or you will look lazy. It doesn’t matter if the job posting asks for a cover letter or not — you are always better off including one if you can.
In addition, don’t be lazy about your cover letter. If the job posting doesn’t specify a person to address your cover letter to, do some research to see if you can find a specific person to address it to. You can try calling human resources if an Internet search doesn’t help you. If you can’t get find the name of a specific person, you should at least address the letter to the specific department, or try: “Dear Hiring Professionals” or “Dear Selection Committee” if you really can’t find a specific name.
If you want to write a successful cover letter, you should avoid the five mistakes above. Make sure you are making the letter specific to the company and job you are apply for, and while you should highlight your abilities, avoid sharing too much information or taking up too much of the reviewer’s time.