You may think cover letters are a waste of time, and job application platforms often make them optional. However, skipping this step could be a mistake. According to a survey by the résumé-creation platform ResumeLab, 87% of HR pros prefer that candidates include one, and 70% would reject a candidate who doesn’t.
Since cover letters can be an afterthought and considered second fiddle to a résumé, it’s easy to overlook their importance. Make sure you aren’t committing one of these six mistakes when putting one together.
1. USING AN OVERLY FORMAL GREETING
About six out of ten HR pros consider informal greetings, like “Hi,” to be a moderate or serious problem. But being too formal isn’t the right choice either, says Hari Kolam, CEO of the talent acquisition platform Findem.
“There’s a delicate balance with being too formal or colloquial in a cover letter, but all too often applicants err on the side of formality, and it actually backfires,” he says. “Remember that there’s an actual person reading this letter and put yourself in their shoes. How would you react to overly formal language if someone was introducing themselves to you? There are very few industries and positions these days where that would be natural.”
While Kolam cautions against using casual openings, such as “Hey,” he says using a greeting like “Dear Sir or Madam” is only going to sound unnatural and outdated. “Avoid overly formal language and long, complicated sentences that may disinterest the reader,” he says. “Aim to make the letter friendly, clear, and professional. A good best practice is to research the company’s brand and tailor the wording in a way that speaks their language.”
2. SOUNDING GENERIC
There is no such thing as a general cover letter, and not tailoring your letter to a particular company is a mistake, says Liz Pawley, director of professional development and curriculum for the Lindner Career Services Center at the University of Cincinnati College of Business. “Your résumé serves as a short document on your accomplishments and qualifications, and the cover letter is a supplement which should speak to your unique qualifications respective to the specific job posting,” she says.
Take the time and effort to research the company and the position, says Joanna Chavers, director of people and engagement at the staffing and recruiting firm Atrium. “Demonstrate that you have the skills and qualifications they are looking for by providing specific examples from previous positions or life situations,” she advises. “By taking the time and making the effort to create a unique introduction, it demonstrates that you work hard, you are truly interested in the position, and they would be wise to invest in you.”
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