I recently received a wonderful opportunity at work and as a result have been spending a lot of time sifting through resumes to find my replacement. Everyone always talks about how important your resume is – it needs to be properly formatted, look nice and clean, be accurate. A well-tailored resume is crucial, but the importance of the cover letter can often be overlooked. As the person who is reading your cover letter, I know for a fact that one little thing can send you to the “no” pile. We’ve got a lot of emails to go through, and the weeding out has to start somewhere! I’d like to offer a few basic rules that will keep you from an automatic toss into the “no” pile.
Rule # 1: Include One!
I’m shocked at how many people do not include a cover letter with their resume submission. Not including a cover letter is a huge mistake, and I’ll tell you why: This is your chance to stand out among a sea of lists and indented job descriptions. This is your opportunity to show that you have a personality! This is your opportunity to showcase your ability to write full sentences!
Rule # 2: Never submit a generic cover letter.
Take a few minutes to tailor a cover letter specifically to the position and company that you’re applying for. I understand that it’s likely that you are applying to handfuls of jobs on handfuls of websites. I get that, because I did it too. However, it’s important to not come off as if this position is just one of many that you’re seeking. After all, if you’re not excited about our position at our company, why should we be excited about you?
Rule # 3: Don’t go over the top.
Don’t offer up your first born child (Okay, I maybe did this ONCE out of desperation… But trust me, even though it was a joke, it didn’t work). Don’t act like you’ve been a huge fan of some obscure company since you were born. We want someone who is enthusiastic, not stalker-ish.
Rule # 4: Don’t oversell yourself.
If you graduated last year, don’t call yourself a “producer.” If you’re applying for a receptionist position, don’t call yourself a “director.” Yes, you should be proud of your accomplishments and absolutely be your biggest advocate, but be realistic. I know for a fact that if you’re applying to an assistant position that you’re not a world-renowned photographer. So, please, don’t try to make yourself appear over-qualified, because it’s more likely to hurt you in the long run.
Rule # 5: Put some personality into it!
Make a (not likely to offend) joke! Example: The company was founded by a Bostonian, and you’re a Yankees fan, make a baseball rivalry reference. Mention why you love doing what you’re applying for – slip in a cute anecdote about how you knew you wanted to go into business because your lemonade stand was a huge hit the summer of 3rd grade. Keep it short and simple, but personal. Make me like you. Your cover letter should be unique, just like you!
Rule # 6: This is your cover letter, not your resume – don’t send me another list.
Cover letters not only serve as an insight into your personality, but also show your hopefully future employer a sample of your writing skills. Realize that it’s going to be a person reading it(and they are probably reading hundreds others), so if you’re submitting a novel, your audience is more than likely going to be overwhelmed and you could get an outright “skip” just for that. You’ll want to come off as professional and concise, yet friendly and likable.
Rule # 7: Don’t forget your grammar.
I am a self-professed grammar Nazi and if you use the wrong your/you’re, you’re going into the “no” pile. If you misspell, well, anything, you’re going into the “no” pile. Improper grammar and misspellings not only irk English language enthusiasts like me, but they also give off the impression that you simply couldn’t be bothered to double check your writing.
Rule # 8: Have someone else look at your cover letter before you submit it.
I make spelling mistakes and typos often at work, but this is why Quality Control exists, to put a fresh set of eyes on the task. Find your own quality control (mom, a friend that used to be an English major, a former coworker) and use it!
There is no one right way to write a cover letter, but I hope that these tips will give some insight in how to write the perfect cover letter for you. Good luck!