How To Write A Cover Letter: Dos And Don’ts
Oh yeah I also used to think “dos and don’ts” was poor grammar. It isn’t. Grammar girl says so.
Anyways, onto today’s letter.
Last week, we figured out the best way to write a resume.
This is only half the battle.
Today, we will look at the other side of the “job-application coin”: your cover letter!
Sidenote: Just like last week, most of the information here comes from Kathryn Minshew and Alexandra Cavoulacos’ book,“The New Rules of Work: The Modern Playbook for Navigating Your Career.” It still gets my vote for most relevant career advice book out there today. Highly recommended.
1. Channel The Right Side Of Your Brain
Remember I told you to think of your resume as the left side of your brain?
Well, your cover letter is the right side.
What does this mean? Whereas your resume shows data and numbers, your cover letter shows your personality (feels, colors, originality! hence the image at the top).
Here, you have to be creative. This is your first opportunity to show a future employer who you are.
Below, we’ll look at a few ways to do this.
Sidenote: Although I would totally use wit and humor, I wouldn’t recommend everyone do the same. Remember, your cover letter shows your personality the way you are, so don’t try to force things.
Remember we learned there is no “one-size-fits-all” resume?
The same goes for your cover letter.
You should tailor your cover letter to the specific company/ job you’re applying for.
How? Here are some examples:
- Read through the job description. Your cover letter should mention the same skills and requirements they are looking for.
- Even if your previous jobs are unrelated to the one you’re applying for, talk about the skills you acquired that are transferable.
- Address the hiring manager by name. If you can’t find that information anywhere, address the head of the department (e.g. “Dear Sales Director”). Never use “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” The more personal, the better.
Sidenote: Of course, to avoid writing a new document from scratch every time you’re applying for a new job, you should probably have a “master cover letter” with all the relevant information. Depending on the job, you edit it appropriately. What you shouldn’t do is send the same cover letter to different companies.
3. Grab Attention
Use an attention-grabbing anecdote instead of starting with “I’m writing to express my interest in the position of bla bla bla.”
Like everything else, the anecdote has to relate to the position you’re applying for.
For example, you could mention how you always helped your friends with their homework in high school and therefore it’s no surprise you want to be a teacher today.
If you need inspiration, here are some examples of great opening lines to use in your cover letter.
4. Speak The Same Language
The tone you use will change depending on the company.
For instance, remember I said I’d use wit and humor? That might work for a more “fun” company like Google, but I wouldn’t try the same strategy with IBM.
Make sure you know what the company’s “voice” is like. To find that out, just read the copy on their website. It will give you a good idea of how “formal” your cover letter has to sound.
1. Copy Paste
A lot of people are tempted to copy everything they wrote on their resume and slap it onto their cover letter.
Don’t do this.
Remember, your resume shows numbers, your cover letter shows personality.
If anything, you should expand on some key points from your resume.
Try this: pull out 2–3 (relevant) skills from your resume and explain how you used them successfully before. (e.g. My HTML experience allowed me to build the beta version of my previous employer’s website, which became a key tool in acquiring most of our customers down the line).
2. Mention The Obvious
Another mistake when writing cover letters is explaining “why you want the job so much.”
It’s safe to assume whoever’s reading your cover letter knows you want the job (duh!).
Instead, talk about what you can offer. Highlight your strengths, and show your personality.
And that’s it for today!
Today, we learned:
- What to do when writing a cover letter (channel your right brain, tailor, grab attention, and speak the same language).
- What not to do when writing a cover letter (copy paste, and mention the obvious).
See you next week (follow the series here to be notified).
P.S.: Just like last week, I can’t recommend Muse’s coaching services enough. For a fee, they’ll help you create the strongest version of your cover letter. Absolutely worth it.
Cover letter mistakes you should avoid
Nix these things and make sure your first impression isn't the equivalent of a limp handshake.
Avoid these common mistakes when writing your cover letter.
Your cover letter is like a handshake—it’s how you introduce yourself to employers when you apply for a job. Like a good handshake, you want your cover letter to be strong, succinct, and make a great first impression.
This isn’t a part of the job application process you want to skimp on, either. A cover letter allows you to go into more detail than your resume allows, explain gaps in your employment history or your need for a career change, and make a case as to why you would be a great fit for the position. And a great cover letter can open the door to scoring an interview and, ultimately, landing a job.
Make sure your first impression is a good and lasting one by avoiding these common mistakes below when writing your cover letter.
1. Overusing “I”
Your cover letter is not your autobiography. The focus should be on how you meet an employer's needs, not on your life story. Avoid the perception of being self-centered by minimizing your use of the word "I," especially at the beginning of your sentences.
2. Using a weak opening
When writing a cover letter, job seekers frequently struggle with the cover letter's opening. This difficulty often results in a feeble introduction lacking punch and failing to grab the reader's interest. Consider this example:
- Weak: Please consider me for your sales representative opening.
- Better: Your need for a top-performing sales representative is an excellent match to my three-year history as a top-ranked, multimillion-dollar producer.
3. Omitting your top selling points
A cover letter is a sales letter that sells you as a candidate. Just like your resume, it should be compelling and give the main reasons you should be called for an interview. Winning cover letter tips include emphasizing your top accomplishments or creating subheadings culled from the job posting. For example:
- Your ad specifies: Communication skills
I offer: Five years of public speaking experience and an extensive background in executive-level report.
- Your ad specifies: The need for a strong computer background
I offer: Proficiency in all MS Office applications with additional expertise in website development and design.
4. Making it too long
If your cover letter exceeds one page, you may be putting readers to sleep. A great cover letter is concise but compelling, and respects the reader's time.
5. Repeating your resume word for word
Your cover letter shouldn't regurgitate what's on your resume. Reword your cover letter statements to avoid dulling your resume's impact. Consider using the letter to tell a brief story, such as "my toughest sale" or "my biggest technical challenge."
6. Being vague
If you're replying to an advertised opening—as opposed to writing a cold cover letter—reference the specific job title in your cover letter. The person reading your letter may be reviewing hundreds of letters for dozens of different jobs. Make sure all of the content in your letter supports how you will meet the employer's specific needs.
7. Forgetting to customize
If you're applying to a number of similar positions, chances are you're tweaking one letter and using it for multiple openings. That's fine, as long as you customize each letter. Don't forget to update the company, job and contact information—if Mr. Jones is addressed as Ms. Smith, he won't be impressed.
8. Ending on a passive note
When possible, put your future in your own hands with a promise to follow up. Instead of asking readers to call you, try a statement like this: I will follow up with you in a few days to answer any preliminary questions you may have. In the meantime, you may reach me at (555) 555-5555.
9. Being rude
Your cover letter should thank the reader for his or her time and consideration.
10. Forgetting to sign the letter
It is proper business etiquette (and shows attention to detail) to sign your letter. Err on the side of formality, and if you need any help figuring out how to close your cover letter, consider these possible sign-offs.
However, if you are sending an email cover letter and resume, a signature isn't necessary.
If you need additional writing tips, join Monster today, so the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service can help you impress employers with a high-impact resume and cover letter.