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 manyadministrativejob 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.
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."
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.
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.