But even if HR only skims, you need to use your best salesmanship and communication skills when you sit down to write your cover letter. Why? Because a good letter might help — but a bad one will almost certainly hurt.
Taking the time to create a solid cover letter shows that you want the job, and that you understand how the process works. Beyond impressing hiring managers with your skills and job fit, your words will show that you know how to behave in a corporate setting.
Avoid these cover letter mistakes and you’ll increase your chances of getting that all-important first interview:
1. No Cover Letter
In a 2015 survey by Addison Group, only 18 percent of hiring managers ranked cover letters as an important part of the process. However, you still have to write one.
Why? Because even hiring managers who don’t care about cover letters expect to receive them. If you’re applying online, you may even be required to include one. But in any case, not writing a cover letter sends a very clear message that you don’t care enough to put in the effort — and that’s not what you want to convey to potential bosses.
2. Focusing on What You Want, Instead of What They Need
Take a look at your draft: do you see a lot of “I” and “me” in there? If so, it’s time to rewrite. Cover letters aren’t about what you want, but what you can do for a prospective employer.
“Think of your cover letter as your sales pitch to the hiring manager,” writes Amanda Augustine at TopResume. “Instead of spending the entire time talking about yourself and your wants and needs, consider the needs of your prospective employer. Your potential boss is the one who will (hopefully) read your cover letter, after all.”
3. Mismatch With the Job Description
Your goal is to convince the hiring manager that you’re the best candidate for the job. To do that, you need to show that you have the skills, experience and ability to solve the company’s problems and add to their success.
Start with the job description and look for matches between your resume and their needs. Emphasize keywords from the ad in your resume and cover letter to make sure that your application stands out.
4. “To Whom It May Concern”
When possible, address your letter to the recruiter or hiring manager. If you’re applying online through a job board or company site, and the name isn’t listed in the ad, you might be able to find the contact’s name by looking in the “About Us” section of the corporate website.
Failing that, you can opt for a generic greeting. But Alison Doyle, job search expert at The Balance Careers, cautions that you may want to avoid the traditional “to whom it may concern.” Doyle writes that the salutation “might be considered outdated” and recommends a few other options, including “Dear Hiring Manager” and “Dear Search Committee.”
A good sales pitch is lean and mean. Now is not the time to rehash your resume or meander through your job history. Focus on the parts of your candidate profile that make you the best fit and put those key attributes right up front, where a busy reader will see them.
Above all, keep it professional. Don’t send the hiring manager a list of your favorite recipes or a picture of you with a tiger or enough information to successfully steal your identity, should they decide to go into a life of crime. (All things that hiring managers have seen, per this amazing Inc. article.)
Remember that your goal is to stand out for your professional accomplishments … and not for any other reason.
Tell Us What You Think
Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes: would any of these cover letter mistakes keep you from scheduling an interview? We want to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.