Even more than your résumé, a cover letter is a chance for you to demonstrate to a company why you are a good fit for them. It gives you the chance to show off your personality, brag a little, and point them to your salient qualifications so that they don’t gloss over the parts of your résumé that are important. Sadly, while writing a cover letter is a great opportunity, it is one that often goes horribly wrong.
The reason the cover letter causes problems for many people is they use one or more of the following phrases which are immediate red flags to any employer and will make them throw your résumé away and leave you jobless for yet another day. If you want to keep yourself out of the “Do not call” pile and land an interview, avoid these common cover letter errors.
“To Whom it May Concern”
Any banal, impersonal greeting is the kiss of death right from the outset. If you are starting a cover letter with this or “Dear Hiring Manager” it looks like a form letter that you just copied and pasted. Address it to a person whenever possible. If no name is given, try doing a little research to find out who their HR manager is. They will admire your pluck and ingenuity. If you can’t find anyone, don’t address it to a person and instead include a formal greeting such as “Good morning” or skip the greeting altogether.
“I’m a hard worker”
This should only be included if you have never had a job before in your life. Employers all want hard workers, but more than that they want efficient workers, smart workers, intuitive workers, and dynamic workers. They aren’t looking for someone to plod through the day. They want a personality that solves problems, creates solutions, behaves positively, and gets results.
Rather than highlighting that you would make a good drone, give examples of ways you improved companies with which you have worked, added value to a brand, helped your fellow workers, or dazzled your clients.
“Looking for a more challenging position”
This statement makes it sound like the work your are doing is beneath you, which can make you seem arrogant and discontented. An employer wants to hear that you know how to challenge yourself and can expand the reach of your position on your own. They want someone that will be happy with whatever task they have rather than looking for greener pastures.
You don’t even have one job yet and you already want a promotion? Employers want people that are motivated and upwardly mobile but they also want someone who will prove they can do the job they are assigned. Nearly any company has opportunity for advancement. The key is proving that you deserve to be advanced, not telling them they should help you climb the ladder.
“I am perfect for this position”
This is a classic case of “show, don’t tell.” Words are very cheap in cover letters and if you just flagrantly point out that you are the right choice they will almost certainly dismiss you. The reason for this is they do not want to be told how the world is, they want to decide for themselves. Give examples of why you are perfect for the position and get them to make that judgement on their own.
You also come across as cocky if you tell them you are perfect. No one wants to hire a blow hard to work in their office. They want a hard worker who is happy to be there. If you come off as a braggart, expect to go to the bottom of the pile.
“I don’t have any experience”
You never, ever want to confess that you aren’t well-versed in the functions of a particular job. Even if you don’t even know what the job entails, you should not point out where you are deficient in a cover letter. You might as well say “I know I’m wasting your time but keep reading anyway.” It annoys the hiring manager who has a stack of résumés to go through. The good news is they won’t be reading it much longer, since it will be in the trash.
If you don’t have any experience, just omit that fact and focus on facets of your personality and résumé that are related to the position. Show enthusiasm for the job. For most jobs they will train you to do it anyway so there is no reason to make yourself look weak before they even meet you.
“I have experience”
While you certainly don’t want to say you have no experience, simply stating that you have experience in a field or industry doesn’t say that you were good at it, just that you did it. It’s a generic statement that nearly everyone adds to a cover letter and makes you seem like a dry, dull candidate.
State what you have done, why you love it, and the ways you made a previous job your own. Be specific about what you have done. Include sales goals you reached, number of people you managed, or how you expanded or streamlined the company. Add as many facts and statistics as possible to show that you aren’t just blowing smoke.
“Thank you for your time”
While it is true that everyone appreciates being thanked, this phrase and those like it take a very passive stance. They are also conclusive making the person reading it feel as if no further action is necessary. They have read your letter and you have thanked them. It is over.
Instead of just thanking them, add something that implies the conversation hasn’t ended yet. Use a phrase such as “I look forward to hearing from you” or “I anticipate your response.” This motivates them to take the next step and puts the ball in their court.
Once you have written a good cover letter, it is time to prepare for your interview.
Featured photo credit: Antonio Litterio via upload.wikimedia.org