No matter what the job posting says, a cover letter is never optional. Cover letters increase your chances of getting hired at every stage of the process:
- By increasing the likelihood that your application will be reviewed by a human hiring manager. It is likely your application will be assessed by an automated applicant tracking system (ATS), which will rank you based on how frequently keywords representing skills necessary for the job appear. Providing a cover letter will up your keyword count, improving your chances of making it past the ATS.
- Cover letters increase the odds that you will land an interview. Hiring managers often cite cultural fit as one of the most important qualities they look for when making a new hire. Resumes are formatted to convey skills and experience, but they are not ideal for communicating personal qualities. By presenting a personal dimension a resume can’t, cover letters increase the likelihood that you will land an interview.
- Cover letters can help you edge out the competition and land an offer. At the end of the process, your cover letter may help remind your interviewers of qualities you displayed in the interview, thereby helping you win an offer over other finalists.
The best cover letters tell a story about the applicant in a way that your resume can’t. But only if you avoid the following common mistakes:
- Don’t address your letter to a generic recipient. Beginning your letter with “To whom it may concern” means it isn’t likely to concern anyone. When at all possible, address your letter to the hiring manager by name. If you cannot find the name on a website, call the business directly to inquire.
- Don’t begin with a general statement. Many cover letters open with a sentence about how the applicant is a good fit for the position described. This kind of ho-hum opener signals that there is nothing special about you. Instead, begin with the title of the position and then demonstrate your aptness with details about your career or background. Make sure you refer to the specific job title as worded in the ad and state the name of the company.
- Don’t repeat what can already be learned from your resume. To avoid this common mistake, read over your resume as a stranger might. What haven’t they learned about you that you wish you could convey? Use your cover letter to share that side of yourself with your next employer.
- Don’t focus on extremely generic soft skills. Many candidates are careful to highlight job-specific and technical skills on their resume, but only mention soft skills in their cover letters. Your dependability, professionalism, and flexibility are not going to place you at the top of the applicant pool. Other clichés, such as “thinking outside of the box” or describing yourself as a “game-changer,” “self-starter,” or “team player,” are also among the things you should never say in a cover letter. Instead, hiring managers urge applicants to focus on how their technical and job-specific skills will benefit the business.
- Don’t over-format your cover letter. The best way to convey your personality is through anecdotes and narrative. Consider writing your cover letter in the form of a story, with a beginning, middle, and end.
- Don’t make false claims. HR professionals know how to research candidates. If you claim you graduated from a college when in fact you attended classes there and left before earning your degree, it is very likely that you will be caught in your lie.
- Don’t use obvious flattery. Vague adjectives that describe how great you think a company is and how much you want to work there are among the things you should never say in a cover letter. Instead, say something specific about the company that shows you have done your research. For example, you might cite a recent article written about them on a trade site.
- Don’t employ the same letter for every opening. Make sure that your letter is specific to each company, not a given sector or field.
- Don’t waste space. For example, never say in a cover letter that your resume is enclosed or that references are available upon request. The most effective length is 200-250 words, so make every word count. Edit out irrelevant experience. If your part-time job has no relevance to the position you are currently seeking, then emphasize the skills you learned in the classroom.
- Don’t submit an unprofessional document. Never criticize the company you are applying to, and don’t include personal anecdotes unrelated to work, even if you think they relate to a quality you are trying to emphasize. Find a professionally focused anecdote that demonstrates that quality instead. Avoid misspelled words, grammar errors, and awkward phrasing.
- Don’t end your letter with a general statement of gratitude. If your letter ends with “Thank you for your consideration,” you may find yourself out of consideration. Instead, end with a request for an interview. But avoid a weak request, such as “please feel free to contact me.” Instead, request an interview or follow-up phone call directly.
Writing a cover letter is a tough order of business. If you think you will need help writing yours, consider putting a free cover letter builder to work. Best of luck!