Cover letters are often your first mode of contact with an employer, so obviously you want them to be perfect. And, as in everything else, you get to perfect by sweating the details. Sometimes it’s a simple thing that can throw a cover letter off-track. With that in mind, we present this list of mistakes that can sink your chances before you even get started.
- Generic Salutation: Don’t even bother sending a cover letter if it starts with “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir.” If you can’t find the name of the hiring manager, insert the title of the person you’d report to, or replace the salutation with a subject line. Another option is to weave the company’s name into the salutation: “Dear Members of the Hiring Team at ABC Company.”
- Typos and Grammatical Errors: This is basic.These kinds of errors ruin your credibility in terms of communication skills and attention to detail. Don’t rely on spell check—proofread!
- Boilerplate Material: A bland or generic letter won’t impress anyone since it conveys a lack of interest. Distinguish yourself by customizing your cover letter toward the company, the manager’s needs and the job. Also, don’t rehash the information in your résumé. Make your case by using the cover letter’s open format to delve into one or two relevant projects.
- Underselling Yourself: A cover letter’s sole purpose is to get you an interview. If your letter doesn’t clearly and succinctly state why you’re qualified and why the company should hire you—rewrite it. Don’t forget to include power verbs, adjectives, facts, data, examples and accomplishments. In other words, don’t say you’re a great coder. Let the facts do the talking.
- Omitting Your Contact Information: Don’t make the hiring manager track you down. Display your contact information on every item you submit during the hiring process.
- Ignoring Your Audience: This is your chance to have a private conversation with the hiring manager. Speak directly to him or her in your letter, using an appropriate tone and style, based on your research. For instance, you can be less formal if you’re applying for a position at a bleeding edge startup, but you’d better tone it down if you’re pursuing a job at a conservative bank or insurance company.
- Not Following Directions: Did the posting say to include the job number or the job title in the subject line? Are you supposed to answer a specific question or mention when you’re available to take a coding test? Employers sometimes include instructions to see if you can follow them.
- Submitting a Novel: Unless you’re applying for an executive positon, your cover letter should fit on a single page. As a rule of thumb, it shouldn’t exceed four paragraphs—one for the opening, one for the summary and the other two to explain your qualifications and cite examples that match the employer’s needs.
- Failing to Close: Your cover letter should include a call to action. For instance: “As you can see, my experience in harnessing the power of Big Data would enable me to step into the role at XYZ Company and hit the ground running. I’m available for an interview next week, and you can reach me at 000.555.1212. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll give you a call on Thursday. I’m looking forward to meeting you and discussing your Big Data initiatives.
- Forgetting to Synch Up: Great! Your cover letter did its job. The hiring manager is intrigued and wants to review the coding samples, blog and open source projects you referenced. So where are they? Include hyperlinks to sites and online sources that validate the experience and achievements you described in your cover letter.
One more thing to mention: Submitting your résumé without a cover letter isn’t a minor mistake. It’s the biggest mistake of all.