[Cover letters don’t get a lot of love. And considering how tough it is to write a good one, it’s kind of understandable that people tend to throw them together at the last minute (or update one they wrote last month), attach it to their resume, and call it good.
But this, my friends, is the biggest cover letter mistake you could make. In fact, this document is the best chance you have to give the hiring manager a glimpse of who you are, what you bring to the table, and why you—above all those other candidates—are the one for the job.
Don’t give up your chance to share your best qualifications in a fresh, unique way. And while you’re at it, don’t make these seven other common cover letter mistakes I see all the time.
1. Starting With Your Name
How do you start a cover letter? Let me set the record straight now and say it’s not with, “My name is John Smith.” Unless you’re already famous, your name just isn’t the most relevant piece of information to start with. Not to mention that your name should be listed on your resume, the sign-off in your cover letter, and in other parts of your application.
Start with a relevant qualification as a way to introduce yourself. If you’re a recent grad with a passion for environmental activism, go with that. Or, maybe you’re a marketing professional with 10+ years of healthcare industry experience—introduce yourself as such, and connect it to the position you are applying to. (Here’s a bit more about kicking off your cover letter with an awesome opener.)
Why not work with a coach and make your life easier?
Just Click Here
2. Rehashing Your Resume
If your cover letter is basically your resume in paragraph form, you’re probably going to need to start over. Your resume likely the first thing a recruiter looks at, so you’re wasting your time (and the recruiter’s) if your cover letter is a harder-to-read version of something he or she has already seen.
Focus on one or two (OK three, max) examples of your work that highlight what you can bring to the position, and try to help your reader picture you doing the work by really diving deep and detailing your impact. You want the hiring manger to be able to imagine plucking you out of the work you’re describing on the page and placing you into his or her team seamlessly.
3. Not Being Flexible With the Format
Remember those three paragraph essays you wrote in middle school? Your cover letter is not the place for you to be recalling those skills. Rather than fitting your message into a particular format, your format should be molded to your message.
Consider what message you’re trying to get across. If you’re going to be spending the majority of the letter describing one particular relevant experience—maybe that three-paragraph format makes sense. However, if you’re thinking about transferable skills or want to explain how your career has taken you from teaching to business development, a more creative approach could be appropriate. I’ve seen cover letters use bullet points, tell stories, or showcase videos to (successfully) get their point across.
4. Going Over a Page
There are always exceptions to the rule, but in general, for resumes and cover letters alike, don’t go over a page. Unless you’re applying for a managerial or executive position, it’s unlikely a recruiter would look beyond your first page of materials anyway.
Keep it concise and, ideally, wrap up around three quarters of the way down the page. Remember that you’re not trying to get everything on one page—you’re trying to entice the hiring manager enough to bring you in for an interview. Think of your cover letter as the highlights reel of your career.
5. Over Explaining
Are you a career changer or doing a long distance job search? No matter how complicated your reasons for applying to a job are, it would be a mistake to spend an entire paragraph explaining why you’re moving to San Francisco from New York.
If your reasons for applying to a position would be made clearer with some added explanation, add them in, but keep them short. Limit yourself to a sentence either in the first paragraph or the last paragraph for a location change, and no more than a paragraph to describe a career change.
6. Focusing Too Much on Training
Maybe you just finished your master’s degree or finally got the hang of coding. Great! But even if your most relevant qualification is related to your education or training, you don’t want to spend the majority of your time on coursework. At the end of the day, what hiring managers care about most is your work experience—what you can walk through the door and deliver on Day 1.
Certainly mention your educational qualifications if they are relevant, but focus the bulk of your cover letter on experiences. Even if your most relevant experience is education, present it more in the form of projects you worked on and job-related skills you gained, rather than actually explaining course content.
7. Sharing Irrelevant Information
Cultural fit is one of those big buzzwords in the recruiting world now, and there’s no question that it’s important to tailor your cover letter to each company to show your compatibility. But it starts getting a little weird when you start writing about your bowling league or active social life. (And don’t try to tell me this doesn’t happen—I’ve seen it.)
A better way to show that you’re a good cultural fit for the job is to focus on values—not activities. Mine company websites for the way they describe their company culture, then use that intel to show how your own values align. (Here’s some more on how to show you get the company culture in a cover letter.)
For the companies that have moved away from a cover letter requirement, an additional opportunity to show off what you have to offer is lost. But, for those that require cover letters or at least make them optional, you should absolutely make the most of them—and, of course, avoid these all-too-common mistakes.
17 Quick Tips to Make Your Cover Letter Stand Out
Simple Steps for Writing an Impressive Cover Letter for a Resume
One of the hardest things about writing a cover letter for a job is that you can spend a lot of time and effort writing a perfect letter but not know if anyone is going to read it. Writing a good cover letter is work. You need to make sure it’s well written, shows the employer why you’re qualified, and doesn’t have any glaring errors that could cost you an interview.
What’s the best way to get your cover letter noticed when the employer has a ton of them to look through?
There are some quick and easy steps that you can take to write a cover letter that will impress the hiring manager.
Take a look at these tips and see which ones will work best for you. Even a few small changes can make a big difference.
17 Quick Tips to Get Your Cover Letter Noticed
1. Choose the right type of letter. Before you start writing a cover letter, be sure that you’ve chosen the right type of letter. The style will be different depending on whether you’re writing a letter to go with a resume, inquiring about job openings or mentioning a referral.
2. Find a contact person. If you can find a contact person for your cover letter, you will be able to personalize it, and you’ll have someone to follow-up with to make sure your letter gets looked at.
3. Include a referral. It’s worth taking a few minutes to see if you know anyone who can refer you to the job. Check your LinkedIn network and your Facebook friends to discover anyone who works at the company who could refer you.
If you find someone, here’s how to ask them for a referral.
4. Choose a basic font. Pick a font that’s easy to read. Times New Roman, Arial, and Calibri work well. Review these tips for selecting a font size and style for your cover letter.
5. Keep it short and simple. Cover letters don’t need to be long.
In fact, all a lengthy letter will do is make the reader’s eyes glaze over. A few paragraphs are plenty, and your letter should never be longer than a single page. If your letter is too long don’t use a smaller font, edit and cut words instead. Here’s how long your cover letter should be.
6. Leave plenty of white space on the page. Another way to improve readability is to include spaces between the greeting, paragraphs, and your signature. It’s much easier to read a well-spaced letter than it is to skim one that is hard to read because there’s too much information crammed into too little space.
7. Match your cover letter to your resume. Choose the same font for both your resume and cover letter and your application will look polished and professional.
8. Make a match between your skills and the job qualifications. One of the most important ways to get your cover letter noticed is to make a clear match between the job requirements listed in the help wanted ad and your credentials. Don’t expect the employer to figure it out. Here’s how to match your qualifications to a job.
9. Highlight only the most relevant information from your resume. Don’t use your cover letter to rehash and repeat what’s in your resume.
This is an opportunity to focus on the specific skills and attributes you have that will benefit the employer. Review the difference between a resume and cover letter for more information.
10. Customize your letter and show the employer what you have to offer the company. It’s not worth sending a cover letter that isn’t customized. This is your pitch to get an interview, so take the time to personalize your letter, mention a referral if you have one, and share your strongest qualifications. Here are tips for writing a custom cover letter.
11. Use a T-Shape for you cover letter. A T-shaped cover letter lists your experience and the employer’s requirements, typically in a table after an introductory paragraph and above the closing. Here’s an example to review.
12. Use bullets. Using a bulleted list is another option for getting information noticed in your letter.
Paragraphs tend to blur together, but bullets draw the reader’s eyes to the content on the page. Make sure each bullet point is short and starts with an action word. Review tips for including bullets in a cover letter and an example of a cover letter with bullets.
13. There are some things you shouldn’t include in your cover letter. It’s not necessary to include personal information. Never include salary requirements unless the employer specifically requests that you do. Don’t mention how you left your last job, especially if you were fired. Keep your letter focused on the job for which you’re applying and keep it factual. Here are 15 things not to include in a cover letter.
14. Close your letter with how you will follow up (if you have a contact person) and include your contact information so it’s easy for the employer to get in touch. Then add a closing and your name, and you’re almost done. Here’s a selection of closings that work well for cover letters.
15. Check for typos and grammatical errors. Don’t click send or upload before you have taken the time to carefully proofread your letter. Grammarly is a terrific tool for making sure that your cover letters are perfect. Read it out loud and you may pick up some more mistakes. Also, check out these tips for proofreading your cover letters yourself.
16. Include an email signature when emailing cover letters. When you email a cover letter, be sure to include a signature with your name, phone number, email address, and LinkedIn profile URL if you have one. That will make it easy for the recruiter to get in touch with you.
17. Email it to yourself to be sure the formatting is perfect. There’s one more thing to do before you send your letter. Email a copy to yourself for a final check. Make sure the formatting is as you want it and proofread it one more time.