Before you can land that dream job, you have to impress the hiring manager. And before you ever get to meet that person, you have to impress the computerized Applicant Tracking System and the human being who decides if your cover letter and resume merit more than a six-second review.
You’ve probably heard plenty of tips regarding what should be included in your cover letter, but you also need to know the four cover letter killers that can stop you from getting that dream job — or any job.
The one size fits all cover letter: I know. I know. You send out dozens — if not hundreds — of resumes. Who has the time to personalize each one? You do, if you want to get the job. According to Marina Khidekel, a deputy editor for Cosmopolitan magazine who has combed through hundreds of cover letters from would-be editors and interns, an impersonal, formal, letter that sounds as if it could be sent to anyone is a sure sign of a form letter. "Form letters go in the trash," Khidekel wrote.
The best way to personalize your cover letter is to make sure that it addresses key information in the job posting. For example, if you’re applying for an accounting job, take your cue from the job description. Mention your ability to prepare recurring and nonrecurring journal entries, explain your experience in accurately reviewing data from other departments for completeness and accuracy, and describe how your education has prepared you to evaluate accounting systems and suggest ways to improve output and efficiency.
The I, me and my cover letter: Reality check: companies hire people to meet the organization’s needs, not to meet the applicant’s needs. However, talking about how a company can help you instead of how you can help a company is a common cover letter mistake, according to a CareerBuilder survey of 2,298 hiring managers. According to the survey, one candidate called himself a genius and invited the hiring manager to interview him at his apartment. In another survey by CareerBuilder, a hiring manager reported that one candidate asked, "Would you pass up an opportunity to hire someone like this? I think not." And another candidate insisted that the company pay him to interview because his time was valuable. However, this space on the cover letter would be better used by explaining how your skills and talents can help the company. For example, "When I worked at XYZ Company, I increased sales by 20 percent, and I am eager to discuss ways to help increase your company’s sales as well."
The sloppy cover letter: Just one spelling error can cast doubt on your competence and attention to detail. And depending on the error, you’ll be remembered for all of the wrong reasons. For example, CareerBuilder reports that one candidate who applied for a position in accounting stated he was "deetail-oriened." And if that wasn’t enough, he also misspelled the company’s name. Another applicant said he would be a "good asset to the company" but failed to include the "et" in the word "asset."
The kitchen sink cover letter: Don’t include every detail of your life or everything you’ve ever done in your cover letter. According to CareerBuilder, one candidate said she survived being bitten by a deadly aquatic animal — probably not relevant to an office job. And another candidate actually talked about her family being in the mob (was that a threat?).
In addition, you should keep the length of your cover letter to one page. If it takes more than a page for you to convince a company to contact you for an interview, you’re trying to include way to much information.
Crafting a great cover letter is a delicate balancing act. It shouldn’t sound like a form letter, but it shouldn’t sound like your biography, either. Make sure your letter is free from mistakes and errors, and remember that although you’re trying to stand out among hordes of other applicants, you can make the best impression by being concise about how you can help the company reach its goals.