Cover Letter Do’s And Don’ts

How to use cover letters to your best advantage

15257319_sWith the advent of online job applications many job seekers think that a cover letter isn’t necessary. But, that isn’t the case. While a resume provides basic information on your skills and experience, a cover letter is another chance to sell you.

A good cover letter can help you get your foot in the door which is the first step to getting the job.

Cover Letter Basics

Unlike resumes, cover letter formats leave more room for interpretation. To some extent it’s up to you what to include. Just make sure to remember the fundamentals. Here are a few basics noted by Fred Cooper of Compass HR Consulting, LLC:

  • Keep it to one page, a cover letter should peak their interest
  • Make sure the information tracks with both the job you’re applying to and your resume
  • Make sure there are no errors; check spelling, grammar, punctuation, names, etc.
  • Avoid flowery language that you wouldn’t normally use
  • Don’t include personal information like hobbies, interests, upcoming vacation plans, etc.
  • Apply basic writing skills like sentence structure, be careful of run-on sentences.

Common Cover Letter Blunders

Rita Friedman a career coach in Philadelphia says, “The number one cover letter blunder (after typos) is when job seekers just ramble on. Keep it tight. Unless the position specifically asks for a detailed letter of interest, don’t give a lot of additional information. A big part of what your cover letter shows the employer is that you can provide useful summaries of complex information.”

One thing to stay away from is stating the obvious: I’m responding to your ad because I want the job.” Other common cover letter blunders include:

  • Trying to explain why you are currently unemployed
  • Focusing on skills that you don’t have
  • Attaching your cover letter instead of putting it in the body of the email
  • Addressing the letter to the wrong person
  • Not focusing on your skills, filling your letter with fluff

Mistakes That Hurt Your Professional Image

If a good cover letter is your key to an interview, a poor cover letter can hurt your chances. Remember that your correspondence is part of your professional image. Louise Giordano a former career counselor at Brown University says, “Exaggerated statements, inappropriate language, falsified information, incorrect contact information, and an unprofessional email address can all hurt your chances of getting an interview. Everything about the documents a candidate sends to a prospective employer should be professional looking.”

What email address are you currently using? If you’re email address is something like talk2suzy@emailaddress.com or photosforyou@emailaddress.com  it’s time to upgrade to something more professional. Another mistake is using an email address that promotes your side business. Potential employers want to know that your first priority is working for them.

If your email address is less than professional, get another one for business purposes. It’s easy to create a new email account using one of the many free email providers like Google’s Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail. For your cover letters and resumes, you should have something simple, professional, and easy to type into a “To:” box. Think your first name, middle initial and last name or your first name and zip code. Avoid personally identifying information such as dates of birth or underscores and characters that might be difficult to type. The simpler, the better.

Cover Letters Are Still Essential

Resumes are somewhat like form letters. There are variations on the theme but they’re pretty much the same. A cover letter, on the other hand, is an opportunity to sell yourself and express your personality. It’s also a chance to highlight any skills that are pertinent to that particular job.

Be careful that your resume does not outshine your cover letter. Your cover letter should be as professionally written as your resume. A poorly written cover submitted with a professional looking resume brings both into doubt.

“A great, well written resume accompanied by a poorly written cover letter (or the other way around) can indicate a group effort on one or the other but which one is the ‘real’ applicant?” says Cooper.

How to Make Your Cover Letter Stand Out

Trying to stand out in a sea of cover letters takes more than making sure that your cover letter has no errors. Personalizing your correspondence can go a long way to catching a recruiter’s or hiring manager’s eye.

Craig Vived, founder of recruiting firm Vivalta, Inc. suggests doing some research before contacting a potential employer.  “In a great cover letter, the inquirer demonstrates they know a little something about me. They may even highlight something I am looking for based on what I’ve told people. They’ve done the leg work to impress the reader.”

Don’t go overboard with personal information though. If you include remarks about your potential employer’s three kids and that he or she likes to ski on weekends, you’re going too far. You want to get his attention, not scare him.

Amy Gies, senior writer for Live Career, says a solid cover letter is a great way to impress an employer. “Cover letters should include valid information that makes the employer feel like the candidate will be a good fit for the job that they understand the position an employer is trying to fill. Use of language and sentence structure is also important. If someone knows how to communicate well in a letter, they most likely know how to make a good presentation on the job or with a team, or leading a department, etc.”

You know the old saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Your cover letter isa potential employer’s first impression of you. Remember to tailor it to the specific job you’re applying for and be sure it’s addressed to the correct hiring manager. Be personal, but not too personal. Most importantly, be yourself. A solid cover letter can help you get your foot in the door. The better your cover letter, the more doors it opens.

 

About Jaime A. Heidel

Jaime A. Heidel is a freelance writer with a passion for helping others. She enjoys writing articles on all subjects and is also a published fiction writer.

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