What to do and what not to do in the cover letter

Most people are familiar with the importance of a well-crafted resume and spend a lot of time creating one. But just as important is the cover letter that accompanies and introduces your resume.

In an extremely competitive job market, neglecting your cover letter is a big mistake. Why? A cover letter is your first opportunity to tell a potential employer about yourself, and to do so in your own words. Much like a written interview, a cover letter gives you an opportunity to point out applicable experience and qualities that make you a good fit for the job. And just like any other important job search tool, there are do’s and don’ts to make sure your cover letter is an advantage, not a hindrance.

Personalize your letter.

Nobody likes to receive impersonal mail. Cover letters that begin with phrases like “To Whom It May Concern” sound like random junk or mass mailing, rather than important correspondence. You expect the company to take the time to read your material, so you should also take the time to search for the right direction. Call the company, search their website, or talk to others to find the right contact.

Don’t send a generic cover letter to many different companies.

Hiring managers can spot a mass email from a mile away. What catches their attention are the letters that refer to the company and its needs specifically. Research the company before writing the letter. Check the latest news and read the company’s website, then incorporate what you’ve learned into your letter. Doing so will show employers that you are informed, motivated and willing to go the extra mile.

Address the specific position advertised.

Job posting companies make your life easier by letting you know what qualities they are looking for. Show the company that you paid attention. If a company advertises that it is looking for sales experience, be sure to address your sales experience. One way to do this is to make a table for yourself before you write your letter. List the company’s stated needs in one column and your corresponding experience and qualifications in another column. You can then use that information to write a letter that tells them exactly what they want to know.

Don’t make the reader try too hard to see that you’re the one for the job.

Include specific examples about your successes and past experiences. If you’re looking for a marketing position, provide the reader with detailed information about a marketing campaign you’ve run successfully. Don’t just tell the reader you’re motivated. Give an example that shows your motivation. You should present all of your relevant information in a way that allows the person making the hiring decision to easily see how your experience and qualities fit with the company’s needs.

Get to the point.

Hiring managers receive letters and resumes from dozens and even hundreds of applicants, and often simply don’t have time to read long, wordy letters. Be direct. In the first paragraph, include the title of the position you’re interested in, and then immediately skip to your specific qualifications.

Don’t end your letter passively.

No one gets a job sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring. Similarly, not many people get a call once a resume or cover letter is sent. Since you are the one looking for a job, you need to take the initiative and follow up. Instead of ending the letter with “I look forward to hearing from you,” close with “I’ll call you next week to discuss a time for us to meet.” However, once you’ve included this call to action, be sure to follow through on your own promise.

Write and edit your letter very carefully.

Nothing says “I really don’t want this job” like a cover letter with typos, incorrect information, or misspellings. Make sure the company name is spelled correctly. Check if the contact is male or female. And, although it sounds almost too obvious to mention, be sure to sign your letter. Careless and easily correctable mistakes tell the company that you didn’t take this simple task seriously.

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