My clients often ask me about cover letters and how to write them, confessing they have no clue as where to begin. No worries, writing a cover letter is easy–if you know what to write, of course. Cover letters actually have three purposes: one, to express your interest in the position by telling them why you are interested; two, to tell them why you are the best qualified person for this role and finally, to invite them to further the conversation in some way, such as an interview. A cover letter is not just another piece of paper included in your application materials for the sake of formality, it is an opportunity for you to impress them and hook their interest before they meet you.
Mistake #1. Not including a cover letter. You may believe that companies don’t care about cover letters; some hiring managers may have even confessed it to you that they never read them. Perhaps you are a hiring manager who pays very little attention to cover letters yourself and therefore believe everyone else shares your point of view. That is actually not true. Everyone is different and some employers love to see a cover letter attached because they want to know what else do you have to offer besides your resume. It is a great idea to include a cover letter because it will definitely help you if they care to see it and it will not hurt you if they don’t care. Sometimes companies will specifically ask for a cover letter and even tell you what to write in it. Not including it will give them a message that you either don’t care or refuse to follow instructions.
Mistake #2. Making it too generic, too robotic and lacking personality. This is what typically happens when you do a google search for good cover letter templates, copy the text and use the entire content after simply changing applicable names and references. You may think you found a quick solution and the answer to all your worries about writing cover letters, however you are missing the whole point. First of all, people can tell when something is not genuinely written. When your cover letter lacks personality or any kind of personal input, it sounds boring and that’s probably why people don’t read it. There is no way for them to get to know you, what you’re looking for or why should they even consider you.
Mistake #3. Making it all about yourself. This mistake is very common. Many cover letters I see talk on and on about the applicant, how great he/she is, their experience and qualifications, sometimes without even mentioning the role or the company itself. This typically makes the reader feel less important and start wondering if perhaps you are overqualified for the role and if the company can even accommodate someone like you. If you don’t mention anything about your career goals or values and how they are aligned with company values, they start wondering if perhaps you’re just looking for any job that will pay your bills. It is very important to tell them why you’re applying to their particular company, not only does it show your specific interest in them, it also tells them you did your diligent research about the company and you are not just blindly applying anywhere and everywhere.
Mistake #4. Making it too long. Keep in mind, people have a very short attention span when they read your resume or cover letter. They have tons of other applicants to review and all they have is a few seconds to simply skim through your materials. When people see letters, messages or emails that are too long, they typically don’t read them. Grab their attention quickly by only mentioning relevant points. Keep it short and simple. For a typical cover letter, half a page is plenty, three to four paragraphs is more than enough.
Mistake #5. Not having a call to action at the end. Some cover letters I see simply end with “Thank you for your time and consideration” assuming the hiring manager knows what to do and will contact you if they feel like it. It is proven to be much more effective to actually invite them for an interview in your last paragraph of the cover letter. People respond to an invitation; it shows you are proactive and interested. End with something like, “I would love to talk to you more about this opportunity, feel free to call me for an interview at [insert your phone number even if you think they already have it from your resume].” Then you can thank them for their time and consideration.