Writing an effective cover letter may seem easy, but how would you know whether your cover letter managed to get an employer’s attention or not? If you haven’t heard back, the culprit can be anything from your application timing to tough competition. A poorly written cover letter can’t escape the blame, however.
It is important therefore to make sure that you cover letters always introduce you as a perfect fit for the advertised job. To do so, you first should be aware of common cover-letter errors, which range from the length of your letter to the tone and the style. Not only these mishaps can put you at a disadvantage, they can undermine your chances of getting the job altogether.
Here are a few pitfalls to avoid when you think about including a cover letter with your next job application.
Are you in a hurry or you just don’t feel like writing a cover letter? Not sending a cover letter can be disastrous. First, there is nothing that says, “I don’t really care about this job opportunity,” than not taking the time to introduce yourself.
Second, when you skip it, you are letting the hiring manager read your curriculum vitae with no guidance. In short, impressions that will be made about your career path, gaps, and interests will be done. Any change you’ll try to do later may come too late.
If you search the web for sample cover letters, you will likely get numerous options. Although these can offer good starting points regarding the format and the content, using one with generic statements and impersonal script is a bad idea. Employers who are sorting through resumes all day will sense immediately a sample cover letter that doesn’t really reflect the candidate’s experience or personality.
What can work better is to have your own scripts. If you have been looking for a job, you probably have a couple of positions in mind. Having cover letters that are well-drafted, reviewed and ready for applications for these positions will shortcut the process once you find an interesting opening. Still, before you copy and paste a stock cover letter into a new document, make sure that you customize it as much as possible for the job you’re applying for.
In your excitement to send the job application, you may overlook some requirements in the job ad that are expected to be included in the cover letter. For example, some employers may ask you to state your interest in the job, what you’ll bring to the position, etc. If you just glance through the ad and rush your application, it will show. Keep in mind that it is important to get your cover letter and the entire application in the employer’s hands as soon as possible, but it is also important to pay close attention to any questions that reflect your thoroughness and interest.
Cover letters should not run for pages even if they are engaging with justified tales to tell. Based on the advertised job, a hiring manager may be sorting through dozens, if not hundreds, of resumes. Your goal is to have a cover letter as concise, clear and effective as possible. One way to achieve this goal is to use strong keywords. Look closely at the job requirements and make sure your cover letters convey your relevant experience, without rephrasing the verbiage of the ad.
As much as a different cover letter can successfully attract attention, adding too much style can easily ruin it. Some job candidates like to begin with a question, some humour or an incomplete sentence. With that sort of style, you’re running a huge risk of having your cover letter set aside for no other reason than a hiring manager who lost interest. If you’re planning to go all unconventional, make sure that your run your draft by a friend or spouse to get someone’s impression of how engaging and professional it reads. This also applies to any excessive styling related to formatting. Do you think that a cover letter written in italics will stand out? No. When it comes to your cover letter, keep it clean and simple, unless you’re sure that your styling will be appreciated.
Rania Oteify, a former Gulf News Business Features Editor, is currently a Seattle-based editor.