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Writing the perfect cover letter is a job skill unto itself. In just a few paragraphs, you need to capture the reader’s attention and expertly sell your skills and experience, all while striking the right professional tone.
It’s tempting to slap something together and tell yourself that your resume is more important. Truth be told, though, your cover letter is a key part of the package. Avoiding these seven cover letter gaffes will get you through the interview door faster.
1. Wrong information
Make sure that you have all the details right. Double check that you have the correct company name and spelling, the correct job title, the right address, and, where necessary, the correct name of the hiring manager.
If you don’t have the name of the hiring manager, you can often find it by calling the company’s human resources department. Let HR know which position you’re applying for and ask, "To whom should I address my cover letter?" They won’t always tell you, but sometimes they will.
Also double check your own personal information, including your name, address, email, and phone number. It may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised how often these tiny typos cost people a job opportunity. (See also: Almost Half of Job Applicants Make This Same Foolish Mistake)
2. Poor writing
Use complete sentences. Spell words correctly. Check (and have someone else check) your grammar and punctuation. You want this letter to be the best possible reflection of who you are and how you work, and making silly mistakes won’t put your best self forward.
3. What you’re lacking
Don’t mention any skills or qualifications that you don’t have. The cover letter is not the place to bring up any shortcomings.
Instead, use this as an opportunity to sell yourself. Tell the potential employer why your skills and experiences are a perfect fit for the position. Remember, your cover letter isn’t actually about you. It’s about the company you’d like to work for and why you would be a good fit for them. Wow them with what you’re offering, and maybe they won’t even notice the experience you don’t have.
4. Generic, cliché language
Show that you care and that you spent time on your cover letter by eliminating any generic, cliché phrases that could be part of any cover letter, for any job. Don’t say that you’re a "team player" with "leadership experience" who is also a "hard worker." Nothing about that is unique, and it’ll do nothing to differentiate you from other applicants.
Instead, fill your letter with facts that demonstrate your unique skills. Emphasize results whenever possible. Talk about how you led a diverse team to solve a particular problem, or increased revenue by X percent. Then, explain how you would bring those skills to your new job.
Most people who lie on a cover letter don’t do so intentionally. They panic — maybe feel inadequate — and then they either make something up or, more often, stretch the truth so it looks like they have more experience or qualifications than they actually do.
The problem is, these things are easy to check, and besides — why would you want a job requiring skills you don’t actually have? Instead, focus on qualifications you do have. If you feel tempted to stretch the truth often, maybe you need to look at different jobs or take some online courses so you actually have the skills you need for the work you want to do.
6. Personal information
This is not the time to talk about your dog, or your divorce, or about how you need this job because you have to support your three kids all on your own. Yes, those are important things to you, but they don’t belong in your cover letter.
Like I mentioned above, the cover letter isn’t actually about you. It’s about the company where you’re applying, and how you can make it better. Even if your need for work is desperate, or if there are some personal things you think the company should know about you before they make a decision, the cover letter isn’t the place to list them. Wait for an interview.
7. Long paragraphs
No one wants to read a wall of text, especially when they are scanning cover letters for keywords. So, keep your paragraphs short and limit your letter to a single page.
This means that you have to be pithy in what you say. Straightforward is usually best. Describe your experience and qualifications, highlight how they satisfy key requirements of the job you’re applying for, and then wrap it up. More words aren’t necessarily better.
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