For every résumé you submit, you should have an accompanying cover letter that presents you as a positive and qualified candidate for the job. A cover letter should highlight how your professional experience matches their needs, and should address any questions an employer may have about hiring you for the job. The five common cover letter mistakes outlined below must be avoided if you hope to get through the first round of resume screening and move one step closer to getting the job that you want.
1. Addressing the cover letter “To Whom It May Concern.”
The address line is the most prominent part of the cover letter; it will be seen even if the letter is glanced at and not read. Generic greetings make it seem like you have a template for your cover and you send it to all employers that interest you. Combine this with no proper address and it is highly likely your letter - and your résumé - will not be read.
Do the research and find out the appropriate contact for the cover letter. Companies include a lot of detailed information on corporate websites. You'll be surprised what you can find if you look.
Of course, the hard truth is sometimes this information is not available. If nothing else, look at the company website and organizational chart. Determine whether you should be sending to the attention of an HR Manager, Recruiting Committee, Executive Director, or otherwise. This is at least better than the overly generic “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam.” (But please, look first.)
2. Misspelling the addressee or company’s name.
This doesn’t have to be said, does it? Make sure that the name of your contact and the company are spelled correctly. If your address line contains errors, your cover letter is likely never to make it to the hiring manager.
For that matter, proofread twice. And then once more. You do not want an error in the cover letter any more than you do in your résumé.
3. Highlighting skills they don’t need.
Nothing screams “generic cover letter” more than this. You might be excessively proud of your typing speed. Or your GMAT scores. However, if these were not asked for in the list of required qualifications, they will not help you here.
Look at the ad or posting. Peruse their listed requirements and use this one-page letter to quickly highlight how you can meet their needs. Leave the details for the résumé.
4. Starting every sentence with “I”.
Yes, your cover letter is about you. And yes, unlike the résumé, you are actually allowed to use personal pronouns and write in the first person. Still, starting each sentence this way is repetitive and monotonous. The reader will instantly believe that your communication skills are not up to snuff. Discuss your qualifications, your goals and what you bring to the table in terms of the company, and your professional attributes.
5. Telling the company what they can do for your career.
Let’s be clear. Employers care about your qualifications. They care about what you can do for them. At this point, that is it.
While getting this job might do wonders for your career, that’s your benefit, not theirs, and has no place in the cover letter. Use your limited space to explain how you can help their team; they want to know what you can bring to the table that is innovative, solves their problems, and improves their profitability. Make sure that your résumé expands on this, letting the potential employer know how and why you are the best candidate for the job.