Many job seekers spend so much time crafting a perfect resume that they pay very little attention to their cover letter. A resume takes a lot of effort to fine tune and target toward the job, from selecting the experiences and accomplishments that best sell you to a specific company, to creating an impressive summary of academic achievements, that writing a cover letter often becomes an afterthought. This is a disastrous oversight A poorly written cover letter that shows carelessness on the part of the applicant will turn off the recipient and may cause them to not even read your resume.
As the saying goes, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” The cover letter is that vital first impression and applicants should see it as an extension of the resume. The cover letter isn’t a throw-away; it is another piece of salesmanship that can go a very long way in convincing the employer that you are worth an interview. It needs to be utilized to its fullest, not just as a disposable introductory piece for the “real” content that is the resume. Here are some common mistakes that often derail cover letters and lead to a resume not even being read:
- The greeting: receiving a letter addressed to “dear sir or madam” or the dreaded “to whom it may concern” is as off-putting as getting mail addressed to “current resident.” Put forth the effort to find out exactly who you need to send your resume and cover letter to. Otherwise, the recipient may view it as junk mail and treat it as such.
- Form letters: just like with a resume, many job seekers resort to using a generic, catch-all cover letter. This is absolutely the wrong thing to do. Employers need to be told who you are and what it means specifically to them. Do that by targeting your cover letter just like you would your resume. A generic cover letter tells an employer they’re not worth the time and effort and it also sells you short. Instead, take the time to write a cover letter based on the job at hand and state how you qualify.
- Email: if you are applying for the job by email, don’t take the non-formal nature of electronic communication as an opportunity to skimp on the cover letter. Attach your resume and make the email itself the cover letter. Write the email in exactly the same manner you would a formal cover letter.
- Skip it: it might go without saying, but don’t even think about just not writing a cover letter. Some applicants might think they can rest on the strength of a resume, but this is simply not the case. Forgoing a cover letter is rude and will definitely turn off an employer.
- CC’ing: if you are emailing your resume, do it one at a time. No employer wants to see a list of email addresses at the top of your message, indicating that they’re just part of a distribution list. If you are emailing multiple employers, do each on separately. If you’re truly taking the time to write unique, targeted letters, you’re doing this anyway.
- Neatness counts: do not forget to spell check and proofread for grammatical mistakes. Have a friend read it over, too.
- Which job??? Employers need to know which job you are applying for. If the job posting lists a reference number, definitely use that as well. If they are hiring for multiple positions and you leave out this crucial information, it’s easier to throw your resume out than try to figure out what you’re looking for.
- Be brief: resumes can stretch to a second page if need be, but a cover letter should never go beyond a single page.
- Formality: remember that this is a piece of business communication. Don’t be too casual when writing a cover letter. Consider that you are writing a letter to your future boss.
- Read it one more time: check the job posting and make sure the contact information is correct. Also, be sure you have targeted your cover letter to the requirements outlined in the job post.