Your cover letter offers a chance to show potential employers who you are beyond your list of past jobs. It's a chance to show a little personality, and to make a case that you're more than the sum of your work history.
A well-crafted cover letter can land you an interview for a job that your resume does not quite make the full case for. You can also use your cover letter to argue that your skills would make you a good fit for the position, even if they don't match the ones asked for.
But just as a cover letter can land you an interview, it can also keep you from getting one. In many cases, candidates shoot themselves in the foot by making silly cover letter mistakes that are easy to avoid.
Don't make these cover letter mistakes
Over the course of my career, I've been lucky enough to be involved in the hiring process. While doing that I've seen all sorts of silly mistakes. Some are big and some are small, but all are easy to avoid.
- Not addressing the specific job offered: Sometimes a cover letter makes it clear a person is applying for a certain type of job, but doesn't make it clear they're interested in this specific job.
- Being full-on generic: You'd be shocked at how many cover letters don't address the job at all. No hiring manager wants to read generic drivel about how your experience makes you a great fit for any organization.
- [Insert name here]: Some people apply for a lot of jobs, so they try to automate parts of their cover letter. That's a terrible idea, and it can lead to recruiters seeing how little effort you put in.
- You express a different career goal: If you're applying to be a marketing person at a tech company, don't make it clear that your real goal is to become a chef.
- You tell an inappropriate story: You'd be amazed at how often candidates choose to share risque or borderline criminal stories as a way to show personality. Anecdotes are fine, but make sure they show you in a full-on positive light.
- Insulting the company: You might be better than the people who work at the company now, but you should never insult them. Focus on what you can bring to the table, not the faults of those sitting there already.
- Being too familiar: Your cover letter should never start with "Hey, dude," or a nickname for the person it's addressed to.
- Being too formal: In most cases, you can find a name to address your cover letter to. When you can't, go with "Dear Hiring Manager," not "To whom it make concern."
- Regurgitating your resume: The recruiter has your resume, so you don't need to repeat it in your cover letter. Expand on why your past positions qualify you instead of just repeating them.
- Leaving out requested information: If the job ad asks for something to be in the cover letter, make sure you address that request.
- Never making a case: Sometimes a person who has never done a job might still be able to do it. If your resume does not show the right related experience, it's a terrible mistake to not use your cover letter to make your case.
- Applying for a different job: This one is truly sad, but it happens a lot. Sending the wrong cover letter -- one written for another position -- almost certainly guarantees you'll end up on the reject list.
Take it seriously
A cover letter is an opportunity to enhance your candidacy. Make sure it works for you and gives you the best chance possible at getting an interview. That means taking a little more time with each application. Make sure you respond to the job listing, and that you show the recruiter that you addressed exactly what they're asking for.