Cover letters aren’t dead, but their shifting state of importance requires some careful attention.
There’s a lot of chatter these days about how cover letters don’t really matter anymore. And to be fair—with LinkedIn and social media profiles taking an increasingly important role in first impressions—the role of the cover letter has indeed diminished.
But “diminished” is not the same thing as “dead,” because here’s the thing: While hiring managers don’t have time to give every cover letter an in-depth read, a well-written, concise cover letter demonstrates a.) that you know how to follow directions, b.) you’re able to communicate important information effectively, and c.) you’re sincerely interested in the job you’re applying for.
With all that in mind, crafting a no-nonsense cover letter is pretty damn important. Below are common mistakes to 100 percent avoid, if you don’t want to hurt your chances right out of the gate:
Using a generic, pre-written cover letter.
There’s no quicker way to say “I don’t really give a shit about this job” than using a rote, pre-written cover letter where the entirety of your efforts consist of changing the addressee at the top.
The letter will not be specific to the job you’re applying to or address any of the specific requirements. Literally useless, and hiring managers can spot ‘em from a mile a way.
Selling yourself the exactly same way everyone else does.
It’s great that you’re “extremely well organized,” a “self-starter,” and a “team player.” These are all important traits. But they’re pretty implicit at this point, because approximately 99 percent of all cover letters written throughout history have made these points.
Show, don’t tell. Instead of stating you’re a “self-starter,” elaborate (briefly) on a time you took initiative on a project to great success.
Overelaborating on what you did in your past job/s.
This info should be presented on your resume, where the hiring manager will likely be spending more time anyway. Make brief mention of your biggest achievements and—here’s the important part—explain why that’s relevant to a specific skillset or job requirement for the position you’re applying to.
If you waited tables ten years ago and you’re now applying to a design job, there’s no need to try and force the connection between your ability to filet a fish table-side, and your keen eye for typefaces. Present the most relevant information in the most relevant way possible.
Going longer than a half page.
Nobody has the time to read a cover letter rivaling Infinite Jestin its self-absorbed long-windedness. In the context of a cover letter, going on for two pages can indicate a lack of discipline and potentially, solipsism.
This isn’t your opportunity to air your grievances about why your last job sucked or why this has been your dream since you were five years old.
That might sound harsh, but it’s the truth: Hiring managers want to know what it is about you, specifically, that makes you a great fit, and they want that info in the quickest and easiest way possible.
Coming in hot with the jokes.
If you can be clever in a sentence and a lighthearted touch is appropriate for the position, go for it. Maybe. If you’re positive that’s the vibe of the company you’re applying to.
While this isn’t always the case, it’s not a bad idea to assume that whoever is reading your letter is probably hungry and grumpy: Is that cutesy pun worth the risk of an eye roll from your reader? Think about it before you roll out the LOLs and casual slang words.
Let your accomplishments do the talking and let your personality shine during the interview instead. And while you’re at it, might as well check and make sure you’re not making these booboos on your LinkedIn. Good luck! You got this.