When you decide to launch a job search, chances are one of the first things you'll do is write or update your resume. But what about your cover letter? Before a hiring manager even glances at your resume, he or she will assess your cover letter and form an impression of you and your qualifications. A well-written cover letter can earn you a call for an interview, so it's important to take this document seriously.
For many administrative job seekers, however, cover letters are an afterthought and are quickly written at the last minute; others don't even bother to include them, assuming their resumes will speak for themselves. Following are some cover letter mistakes to avoid:
Failing to personalize. Avoid saying, "Dear Sir or Madam" and take the initiative to find out the appropriate contact name. Often a quick phone call to the company can help you fill in the blank. You'll show that you're resourceful and truly interested in the job.
Starting off weak. Your opening paragraph should capture the reader's attention. So, rather than simply saying, "I am applying for the receptionist position posted at AnytownPaper.com," follow up with, "Your need for an experienced professional is a good match for my five years of experience in publishing and extensive background as a receptionist. "If you've been referred to the hiring manager, be sure to point out the mutual contact in your lead. This may encourage the person to read further.
Making it too short/long. E-mailed cover letters should be included within the body of the e-mail and be limited to two paragraphs, while those faxed or mailed should be three to five paragraphs.
Being generic. Don't send the same cover letter to all companies. Take the time to do some basic research of prospective employers so you can customize them. In a survey by our company, only 44 percent of executives polled said it's common for applicants to use their cover letters to show they've learned more about the job; so if you make the effort, you'll already be ahead of half your competition.
Rehashing the resume. Instead, focus on aspects of your background that relate directly to the job opportunity and note any relevant accomplishments, training, classes or certifications. The cover letter also allows you to explain anything that might be unclear or questionable on your resume, such as a gap in employment or change in career paths.
Underselling your talents. Give hiring managers a compelling reason to call you in for an interview. Instead of saying you have strong communication skills, provide examples: "I recently led a training session on a new database application and received significant praise for my ability to relay complex information to a non-tech-oriented audience."
Trying to be witty or humorous. This can backfire, so it's best to stick with a business letter format, even with e-mailed cover letters. A professional yet conversational tone and salutations such as "Mr." and "Ms." will help you be taken seriously.
Focusing too much on yourself. While you want to sell your qualifications, don't forget to explain how you would add value to the company. If your cover letter is dominated with "I," chances are you need to focus more of your content on the prospective employer.
Omitting contact information. It's easy for cover letters and resumes to become separated, so make sure hiring managers can reach you should they only have your cover letter. Close your letter by mentioning that you'll call the individual soon to follow up and include a current phone number and e-mail address where you can be reached should the person want to contact you first.
Failing to proofread. As qualified as you may be for the opening, you're likely to fall out of contention if your cover letter is full of typos, misspellings and grammatical errors. Ask friends and family to review your document to make sure there are no mistakes. The following examples from real cover letters prove just how important this can be: "I'm attacking my resume for you to review." "I prefer a fast-paste environment." "I never take anything for granite." (For more examples, visit www.resumania.com.)
The cover letter is your chance to give employers a sense of who you are and what you can do for their organizations, encouraging readers to look at your resume. Remember that appearances count, so make sure your cover letter is in a simple font, uses appropriate paragraph breaks and is easy to read. The right impression will allow you to move on in the hiring process.