Is your resume polished and ready? Did you practice your interview and your elevator pitch? Of course you did. Now comes the hard part—the cover letter. Written the right way, it could get you the interview. Include any of the following job-killers, however, and you can kiss your interview good-bye.
- Wrong Length. Simply repeating the job title and saying how you love to work with people won’t cut it. Neither will a multi-page tome of every job you’ve ever held. A good cover letter should be between 200 to 250 words. You need to briefly and succinctly show how your experience dovetails with the specific needs of the job. Include two most recent experience details–backed by numbers, of course–that sell your ability to do the job better than other candidates.
- Wrong Approach. Save the “how I survived that shark attack” stories for after you land the job. Recruiters and HR managers don’t have the time to sift through your hang-gliding stories or your “scaling mountain peaks” adventures. Stay focused on your heroic work achievements—the more current the better. Do some due diligence and find out what the company makes and needs, and the problems it faces. Offer one solution to their most pressing problem.
- Wrong Topics. Stay away from negatives and faults. Employers may ask for your perceived weakness in a face-to-face interview, but never volunteer any weaknesses in a cover letter. Don’t talk about salary, bonuses, vacation time or work hours. Don’t bad mouth your present employer or any employees. And stay away from personal issues—divorces, separations, alimony, etc.
- Wrong Attitude. Your cover letter is no place for hubris or bragging (and neither is the interview). Don’t pad your accomplishments with superlatives. Stick to the facts. Don’t embellish. Sell your ability to cheerfully handle all aspects of the job. Write as if your closest friend will be evaluating your cover letter, someone who really knows when you’re trying to “snow” them. And do avoid humor. (Unless you wrote comedy for a sitcom or a standup comedian, leave out the jokes and any attempts to be funny.)
- Right Letter, Wrong Company. You’d be surprised how often this happens. In these tough times, applicants are shot-gunning resumes and cover letters to multiple employers. And sometimes cover letter A gets stuffed into envelope B. Check every cover letter you send out and make sure it’s to the right prospective employer.