Some people meticulously write their resume but then treat their cover letter as an afterthought, resulting in a mistake-riddled, dull and underperforming document. It is important to ensure your job search tool kit is fully equipped with high-quality, well-honed marketing messages that are blunder-free. The following four cover letter mistakes—and accompanying remedies—will help sharpen your cover letter saw.
1. Using a Generic Salutation. While it is not always possible to obtain the name of the cover letter recipient, often, with a little digging, you can!
The Fix. One example is to use LinkedIn. Let’s say you discover an opening for an electrical engineer position at an engineering organization’s website. The position description indicates the employee will report to the lead electrical engineer. You decide (initially) to bypass the company’s automated application system so you can customize your communications.
You sail over to LinkedIn and begin researching. Use the advanced search feature and type in “name of company” for the company name, “lead electrical engineer” for keywords and “64152” for a zip code for greater Kansas City (where the company headquarters and this position are located) and click enter. Your results will appear.
Search within your first or second tier contacts. You want to be sure to land on the contact with lead electrical engineer in the title. You will have access to that person’s first and last name. This information, along with the company’s mailing address which you can generally pick up at a corporate website, will equip you to create a custom-addressed letter.
This is just one of many examples to research contact names that will help you tailor your cover letter versus writing a generic “Dear Hiring Manager” salutation. Another method is to use Glassdoor’s Inside Connections feature that finds any connections to companies you search for through your friends on Facebook.
2. Peppering The Letter With “I.” While the cover letter touts your value, you should be familiar with the reader’s areas of pain and heartily address their needs with your solutions.
The Fix. While it is nearly impossible not to use the words I or my in the cover letter, you can slant the tone and construct your sentences to better reverberate with the reader’s needs. For example, instead of launching into a diatribe of “I did this” or “I did that,” you might lead into a letter with something like:
“Simplifying complicated information in measurable, digestible ways to align stakeholders is my talent.” Notice how my is used, but the sentence does not lead with the first person possessive.
Also, consider directly connecting the dots of your traits with the current industry or market need. For example: “With more than 15 years’ technology process management experience, I’ve learned to cut through the fog and chart a clear course. Clarifying routine processes versus necessary processes has sharpened investigative abilities… (etc.). These traits are particularly imperative in the current tumultuous economic climate.
3. Droning On and On. Putting every thought, including the kitchen sink, into your letter will lose the reader’s interest.
The Fix. Put your content through the so-what filter as you write; however, you don’t want to stifle your creativity by trying to build a perfect letter out of the gate. Assuming that you are fairly focused on your target goal by the time you get to the letter-writing stage, the initial draft should be somewhat on point. That said, self-editing is crucial. Read through your letter several times. Use a red pen, ruthlessly. Trim, edit, augment, focus. Corral the cover letter into a four- to five-paragraph format, and use bullets to showcase certain information. Keep it to one pithy page, if possible.
4. Running Out of Steam. It is tough to close a story well. And, like your resume, a cover letter is a mini-story that needs a clean, compelling close. Don’t make the mistake of running out of steam at the end of your letter and relying on easy, but typically boring endings. This is not only uninteresting, but it makes you look lazy.
The Fix. Research other people’s letters to get the creative juices flowing. Some professional resume writers publish cover letter samples on their site. Do not steal other people’s language; instead, use the language as a launch pad to stimulate your own! While your closing should be sincere, it shouldn’t be bland. Pretend you are talking with the person face to face. What would you say to display your enthusiasm (not desperation) for the opportunity at the end of the conversation? You would be politely persistent, right? Show the same vigor in the written word!