The first thing that most employers notice when evaluating a job applicant is his or her cover letter. An effective cover letter can prove that you write well, think clearly and possess the qualities you need to succeed in the job. Avoiding mistakes will help you to jump the first hurdle and get screened in for an interview.
Most Common Cover Letter Mistakes
Submitting a Cover Letter With Errors. Submitting a letter with grammar and/or spelling errors is a sure way to get screened out. Use spelling and grammar checking tools to identify some issues, but never trust that they have caught all your errors. Place a finger on every word, read your letter out loud and have friends and advisors review your communications before forwarding them to employers.
Sending a Generic Letter. The most common mistake in cover letters is using a generic approach and sending the same letter to every employer. Make sure you mention the specific job for which you are applying in your first sentence. Carefully consider the characteristics of the ideal candidate, as listed in the job posting, and explain how your skills, experiences and personal qualities will enable you to excel in that particular job.
Not Getting the Facts Right. It is surprising how often job seekers address their letter to the wrong person or reference the wrong company. This is often the case when candidates are applying for many jobs at the same time. Carefully check you salutation and be certain that you list the right contact person and mention only your target company throughout your letter.
Using an Outdated Greeting. Refrain from using old-fashioned terms like "Dear Sir or Madam" if you don't have the name of a contact person. Try gender-neutral terms like "Dear Human Resources Manager." Address women as "Ms. Jones" as opposed to "Mrs. Jones" or simply start with the first paragraph of your letter and don't address it to anyone.
Cover Letter is Too Short. Providing a letter which is too short can send the wrong signal to employers about your work ethic or level of interest in the job. You will also have missed the opportunity to frame your background for employers and to lead them towards a positive view of your candidacy.
Cover Letter is Too Long. An overly lengthy letter can burden the reader and increase the likelihood that they will jump over your letter and move right to the resume. The same can be said for paragraphs which are too dense. Aim for 3 to 5 paragraphs no longer than 6 lines each.
Including Too Much Information. There is some information that you don't need to include in your cover letter. In fact, including it can hurt your chances of securing an interview. Don't give employers any more information than they need to know.
Not Providing Concrete Examples. Expressing empty opinions about your strengths will generally not convince employers about your suitability for the job. Back up your statements about your assets by referencing a job or role where you successfully employed that strength. For example, in lieu of simply stating "I possess strong writing skills and an outstanding work ethic" try "strong writing skills enabled me to revise a grant proposal and secure $100,000 in additional funding from the Jones Foundation."
Not Expressing Enough Interest. Don't leave the hiring manager wondering about your level of interest. Express a genuine enthusiasm for the job so that the employer knows that you are highly motivated to pursue the job.