Writing a Cover Letter? Don’t Make These Stupid Mistakes
Writing a cover letter is one of the more difficult steps in applying for a job. It takes time, even if it’s just a few minutes, to tailor the message to your future employer. It’s your chance to sell yourself, to grab the hiring manager’s attention. If you’re applying for multiple jobs, this can be a time-consuming project. If you’re going to do it, do it right.
Take the time from the start to write a killer cover letter, so you aren’t wasting your time sending out cover letters that go straight to the trash. Here are some tips to consider while writing a cover letter.
1. Address it properly
Try and find the name and title of the hiring manager who will be reading your application. If no name or title is available, make sure to stick with gender-neutral pronouns. “Dear Hiring Manager” will suffice. “Misses, or Mister” comes off as stiff and outdated.
Make sure to address the cover letter to someone, don’t leave the header blank. If you have a header you use for your resume (and you should) copy the exact same format for your cover letter. It should include your name, email, phone, and website, if applicable. An address is unnecessary. State the name of the company and the address below the header and above “Dear Hiring Manager/Name of Hiring Manager.”
2. Grab their attention in the first paragraph
There is a fine line between coming off as hokey and unprofessional and making a statement that is sure to grab the hiring manager’s attention. Aim for the latter. You want something that shows off your personality and your skills. There are plenty of one-liners you can view for inspiration online, just make sure to make it your own.
If you’re hiring manager is rolling his or her eyes before he or she even gets to your application, that’s bad news. You want to create just enough interest that he or she will continue reading. If you’re having doubts, omit it and aim for something more professional.
3. Don’t repeat what’s on your resume
Use your cover as a way to explain a particularly impressive accomplishment or situation, don’t just repeat what the hiring manager can see on your resume (Read our article on resume writing and tricks). Use this opportunity to show your personality, to show what makes you unique.
No hiring manager is interested in a boring explanation of your past experience; they want to know if you will be a good fit for the company, personality included. Explain how you can be a good team player, don’t just say you are. Give specific examples of instances from your previous jobs that demonstrate your capabilities.
4. Don’t over-share
Don’t overshare the wrong information, that is. Don’t use a cover letter as an excuse to bad-mouth your previous employer or explain that you need the money because you just bought a new TV. The hiring manager does not need to know that your grandma’s cousin’s sister moved in and you need the extra money to support everyone. Instead, explain why you are a good fit, why they should choose you over your competition.
Showcase your education, your skills, and your previous experience, not your personal life problems.
5. Use the opportunity to explain gaps in unemployment
If you have any unusual gaps in employment, were fired from a position, or have any other circumstance that requires an explanation, now is your time to do so.
Make sure to word your explanation in a way that doesn’t shine a negative light on your past, and during the job interview, but be prepared to answer why you didn’t work for 3 years after college, or whatever the situation may be. Hiring managers are people too, and with a good reason, can understand a lot of different situations.
6. Personalize each cover letter accordingly
This is the step that usually takes the most time in writing a cover letter. You need to personalize each cover letter to the potential employer accordingly. Aside from obviously changing the “to” field and position title, you need to find a way to show the hiring manager you are interested in the specific company you are addressing.
Research the company’s website and see if you can find something that interests you, and mention it in the cover letter. Does the business have a soccer league? Mention your love for soccer and how you think you would be a great addition to the after-work games. No need to lie, there is surely something you can find that interests you about the company. If not, you may want to look elsewhere.
7. Check for typos
An obvious but crucial point in writing a cover letter – check for typos! With the auto-check system on most text-based software today, there is absolutely no excuse for misspellings. While the squiggly red line is a great start, don’t put all your trust in it.
Make sure to read and re-read your cover letter to spot potentially misused words that didn’t get caught by spell check. Make sure to double check that you spelled the company name correctly, and have the correct position in the subject line (if emailed). One typo can send your cover letter straight to the trash – an easy fix that should have been caught beforehand. Try a website like Grammarly if you need additional help.
8. Follow up
The final step that many forget is following up with the hiring manager. It’s an easy way to get your name back in the forefront of their minds and show them that you are really interested in the opportunity. Don’t wait weeks hoping to hear back from someone. After 3-4 days, send a follow-up email, asking if the company is interested in an interview, and express your interest in the company again.
If you are chosen for an interview, send a thank you note to the interviewer, likely the hiring manager as well. It’s an impressive gesture that doesn’t happen often. Writing a cover letter takes time, but when you land the job, it all pays off.