Thoughtful, well-crafted cover letters will never go out of style for career-minded professionals. A robust application offers prospective employers an overview of who you are, and a thorough resume provides a just-the-facts record of your history. Still, your cover letter helps you fill in the finer points of who you are.
Although including a cover letter with your application and resume is the standard operating procedure, it is always to your benefit to draft a strong cover letter tailored to the position you are trying to earn.
Even though your cover letter feels like it’s all about you, it actually isn’t. It’s a chance to elaborate on the story of why you can and want to do the job in question. This is why it’s important to learn some key rules associated with this essential job-winning correspondence.
Keep reading to learn crucial cover letter dos and don’ts to deliver a high-quality document that tells prospective employers your story and launches you to the top of the candidate list.
Do Keep Your Cover Letter Brief: When you start thinking about what to include in a cover letter, it’s easy to try to mention everything. That’s not the point of your cover letter, so resist the urge to use that strategy. It’s probably no surprise that hiring managers are busy working to fill vital positions with strong candidates while getting to know more about you as their potential hire. You don’t want to knock yourself out of the running with an overly long and drawn-out letter. Entice your reader with a brief, straightforward explanation of why you want the job and how you are uniquely qualified.
Don’t Show Off Your Extensive Vocabulary: Even if you apply for a job where you get to use your strong vocabulary and writing skills, don’t show off. By using flowery language and multi-syllabic words, when one-to-two syllables will do, you risk wasting someone’s valuable time. Using big words in place of simple and meaningful ones might come across as pretentious and desperate. If it’s necessary, you’ll get to use your hard-won vocabulary in the context of your job, but slash the fancy words from your cover letter.
Do Tell Your Story: One of the most important things about learning how to write a cover letter is understanding that it is an opportunity to tell your story, elaborating on your resume and application. Here, use your own words to explain why specific jobs from your work experience will support the position for which you are applying. You might also explain why your experience differs from the position at hand. Maybe you have gone back to school or are setting out on a new career path. Let the hiring manager know more about that and how your experience and drive apply.
Don’t Rehash Your Resume: You need to use some creativity in your cover letter to avoid providing the hiring manager with a rehash of your resume. Use parts of your resume as a launch point, but expand on those points in a meaningful way. Take a look at your bullet points, and elaborate on a few that are noteworthy, and leave it at that.
Do Customize Your Cover Letter: Take the time to craft a cover letter specifically for each job you want. It’s easy to take a boilerplate cover letter and copy and paste each prospective employer’s information into the corresponding spots, but those are easy to spot by skilled hiring managers. It comes across as lazy and suggests that you are not serious about their position or their company, and reasonably so. If you aren’t excited enough about the job to create something unique to try to win it, do you really want it?
Don’t Use Filler Language and Professional Jargon: Beware that hiring managers are likely wary of filler phrases and professional jargon like “team player,” self-starter,” “go-getter,” and “results-driven.” They probably see those phrases daily, making your cover letter seem like one more among the crowd. Use your own words and specific examples of your work ethic and approach to come across as authentic and earnest.
Do Edit and Proofread Your Cover Letter: If you’ve ever submitted a school paper or previous cover letter and almost instantly caught a spelling or grammar error, you probably cringed knowing it was a simple mistake. You could have spotted and corrected it if you had taken a few extra minutes to edit and proofread. Take the time to perform this critical step before submitting your cover letter. While it might not seem like one misspelled word should mean the difference between making it to the next round, it can and often does. It speaks to your desire and commitment to earning the job. Print out your cover letter, read it aloud, then if possible, let someone else take a look at it.
Don’t Forget to Focus on the Company: You don’t want to draft a high-caliber letter, only to forget to let them know you’ve done your due diligence about who they are, what they do, and what their mission is. Scan the business’s website, and add details in an organic way, such as letting them know you’ve always wanted to work for a company with a commitment to fighting childhood hunger.
Using these dos and don’ts of writing a cover letter, you can feel more confident that you’ve helped the hiring manager get to know you, your goals, and your commitment better. Remember to keep refining your cover letter until you get the job you want.
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