Perhaps you just wrapped up your bachelor's or master's degree this past spring, and you're now on the job market, eagerly awaiting any opportunities that may come your way. Or, maybe you are ready to move on from your current job and industry for something more rewarding. Regardless of which category you're in, a job application is likely standing between yourself and your goal of landing a job. In most cases, you'll be required to write a cover letter to include with your resume and application. This formal letter should give prospective employers an idea of who you are and what you hope to accomplish within a job you desire.
1. Using poor spelling and grammar
It should go without saying, but research has shown that many employers receive cover letters that are riddled with – or even have just one or two – misspelled words or grammatical errors. Take the time to carefully craft this document. Then don't forget to proofread it at least twice, and you might even want to send it to a friend or family member to review. It's safe to say that a cover letter with basic spelling or grammar issues is almost a guarantee that you won't be getting an interview.
2. Not using a proper format
While there isn't necessarily a golden standard format for crafting a cover letter, there are a few aspects every letter should include, such as:
- Your name and contact info (in a similar format to how it appears on your resume)
- The date you write the letter
- Some form of salutation (i.e. "To whom it may concern" or, ideally, a specific person's name)
- An introductory paragraph explaining who you are and what position you're applying for
- At least two paragraphs explaining why you'd be the best candidate for the job and what you'd do for the employer to make a positive impact
- A sentence or two at the end thanking an employer for their consideration
- A closing word or phrase (i.e. "Sincerely" or "Best regards")
- Your typed name at the very end and a signature if you're providing a hard copy of the letter
3. Being too wordy
Try to keep your cover letter to one page. Much like with resumes, hiring managers don't have the time to read through long letters that could be expressed in far fewer words. Plus, if you can communicate certain things within short sentences and paragraphs, it shows that your communication skills are solid. In general, such skills can be applied to any trade, so this is a good first step toward making a positive first impression.
4. Failing to focus on the job at hand
Your resume provides an overview of your education, experience, and skills. Your cover letter may touch on these areas, but it should focus more on the job and company you're applying to rather than zeroing in on every detail of yourself. Go through some of the specific qualifications for the position, and explain why you're a great choice. Do the same with some of the job duties, and discuss why you'd be the best person to handle such tasks.
5. Failing to adequately research the employer
If you come across in this letter as being too generic when describing a prospective employer, it could be a red flag that you simply haven't done your homework on what the organization does and represents. Do some quick Google searches. You should be able to find a company website, social media pages, and even some LinkedIn profiles of the organization's team members. Take this info and incorporate it into your cover letter, demonstrating that you have a solid understanding of the type of work you'd be doing and the type of place you'd be supporting professionally.
6. Using language from a cover letter template
In this day and age, there are countless templates available for almost any kind of formal document, including a cover letter. You can probably find plenty of language that you can copy and paste and then just reword a bit to fit a particular job. Stop right there. This isn't a good practice at all. You should get specific enough in your cover letter to show that it is genuine and real. Of course, there may be a few words and phrases commonly used in these letters, but make this document something you're proud to write that is personal to who you are and what you hope to do.
7. Mentioning something that should be discussed in an interview
There are some subjects that can be handled more gracefully when speaking to an employer by phone or in person rather than putting them into words. Examples may include:
- A termination from a previous employer
- Some other issue you had with a current or previous employer
- A disability or medical condition that an employer should be aware of
If you do decide to mention one of these things in your cover letter, be sure to choose your words very carefully. One word or a phrase could be interpreted in a way you didn't intend, and this could nix your chances of landing the position.