Writing your cover letter is one of the most important steps of your job application process. A relevant and interesting cover letter can shape an employer’s first impression of you and help you stand out from the crowd of other applicants.
A bad cover letter, on the other hand, can make you memorable in quite a different way.
All too often job seekers don’t give cover letters the time and effort they should, which is a problem if a job requires writing and editing skills. Here are five common cover letter mistakes and how you can avoid them:
1. “To Whom it May Concern”
Using vague or generic greetings, such as “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam,” makes it seem like you didn’t try to find out the right contact at the company. Instead, do your research and find out who the hiring manager or recruiter is so you can address him or her directly.
You might be able to use the contact name listed in the job posting. If that doesn’t work, try searching the company website or LinkedIn to find the HR manager, or the head of the department that has the job opening. You can also call the company and ask for the appropriate contact.
2. Focusing only on yourself
While it’s important to talk about what makes you the right candidate for the job, you don’t want to come off as arrogant or self-important. Make sure to connect the dots between your experience and why you are applying for the position, writes career expert Sara McCord in The Muse. Focus on communicating how your experience and your skills will allow you to contribute right away. Make it easy for prospective employers to see how you fit into their team, what you bring to the table, and how you can help them achieve their goals.
3. Reiterating your resume
You don’t have to recap every job you’ve ever had in order to show the depth and breadth of your experience. Instead, use the job description as a reference to determine the type of candidate the organization looking for and tailor your response accordingly. Hone in on a few of your key skills, your recent experience and relevant results. Show, rather than tell, that you’ve got what it takes to be successful in the role.
4. Writing too much
Keep it short and simple. Most managers will only skim your cover letter, so make sure it’s clear right away why you’re fit for the job. Career site The Balance reports that 70 percent of employers want a cover letter of less than a full page, and 25 percent say the shorter the better. So, don’t overdo it.
A template can be helpful if you’ve never written a cover letter before, but don’t go the route of “find and replace.” Hiring managers will be able to tell if you’re just replacing your name and the name of the company in a pre-written document – and your resume is likely to end up in the trash.
You should create a unique cover letter for every job application. Make sure that it is customized to show your knowledge and understanding of what the position requires, as well as the values and goals of the organization you’ll be working for.
Now that you know a few basic cover letter do’s and don’ts, take a stab at writing your own. Remember that your cover letter should supplement the information on your resume (not repeat it) and help an employer get a better sense of who you are and what you have to offer. For more cover letter writing tips, check out this blog post.