If You Make Printed Copies, Be Sure They’re Attractive
For those relatively few instances today where you’re actually mailing out paper copies of your cover letter (and resume), always use good quality stationary, printed with a good quality printer. Remember: your cover letter and resume are the first impression you’ll make, so you want to be certain it’s a professional one.
Keep it Short
Your cover letter should be about half a page in length, or two thirds of a page at most. The purpose of a cover letter is not to restate your resume – it’s to get the Hiring Manager to read your resume. By being brief, you show you understand that the reader’s time is valuable.
Focus on Accomplishments
Highlight one or two of your most significant accomplishments. Selecting only a couple, if they are significant, can increase the chance you’ll be remembered.
Avoid Using General Words and Phrases
You should avoid using generalized, ready-made phrases such as “excellent team player”, “proven leadership skills,” “exceptional interpersonal skills,” etc., unless you have specific examples of accomplishments to back them up. Otherwise, you’ll simply come across as throwing around buzz words with nothing substantial to back them up.
This should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway!): never, ever overstate your experience or skills when your write a cover letter, or tell even one small white lie. These will invariably be uncovered in the interview, or worse yet soon after you get the job. Even if you don’t have every qualification listed in a job ad, be honest about yourself and highlight your strengths, stating them in terms that can apply to the job requirements.
Consider a Bit of Humor
Even hiring managers appreciate a bit of humor in a cover letter if it’s appropriate. Your resume is a formal document and as a rule should never contain humor, but your cover letter can be a bit more informal and show a little of your personality. Handled properly, this can make you stand out among candidates. While you always want to come across as professional, try keep the tone of your cover letter friendly and just a bit informal. But beware of crossing over the line into “gimmicky”, as explained below
You want to avoid the appearance of being “gimmicky” at all costs. For example, an applicant once mailed his cover letter and resume in a box, with two plastic toy teeth included. A note inside said: “I’d give my eye teeth for an interview.” I know another hiring manager who received a note with a pair of dice and the note said “roll the dice and give me a chance.” These things look corny and usually don’t work, with the possible exception of sales positions. Some managers hiring for sales jobs like to see some creativity and assertiveness and don’t mind gimmicks. But unless your gimmick is truly original, it can backfire (and almost always does for non-sales positions).
Try to Use a Conversational Tone
When you write your cover letter, use a conversational style. Read it out loud to yourself to make sure you don’t use words that you wouldn’t use in everyday conversation. Save the long words and formal language for your resume and make your cover letter something that the hiring manager actually enjoys reading.
Have Someone Else Proofread
Finally, don’t just run your cover letter through your spell checker and call it done. Take the extra step of having someone you trust read your cover letter for spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors. Spell checkers don’t catch everything and you can read your own letter ten times and not see that obvious error that someone else sees immediately. You don’t want that someone else be the hiring manager!
My next post will cover the top job search mistakes that I see as a hiring manager.