By Gerald Walsh ©
Some employers like to read cover letters; other employers just ignore them. Personally, I believe they are an important part of the job search process and one that you should spend a considerable amount of time on before submitting an application. Not writing one is – to me – a sign of laziness.
I’ve read well over 100,000 cover letters over the years. When I read them, I look for you to tell me two things:
Tell me who you are professionally; and
Explain how your background relates to the job you are applying for.
Surprisingly, the number of cover letters that meet these two simple criteria is shockingly low. This is not the time to be satisfied with being “average” or “good enough.” It’s an opportunity to distinguish yourself from other applicants. Use the opportunity.
Here are a few guidelines to follow when writing cover letters.
Don’t say you are the perfect candidate for the job.
How many times have I read this line? There is no way you can tell from a job posting that you are the perfect candidate for the job when you haven’t even met with the employer yet. This says to the reader that you are impulsive, unrealistic, and brash. Leave it out.
Do avoid spelling and grammar mistakes.
Nothing is worse than a cover letter filled with spelling or grammatical errors. Just think of what such mistakes say about you: you’re careless; you don’t pay attention to detail; and you don’t care enough.
Do present yourself professionally.
Employers want to hire competent, confident, professional people. Therefore the tone of your cover letter should reflect these traits. For example, even though you may want to leave your current employer, speak positively about your experiences there. Don’t complain about how under-paid or unappreciated you are. It presents you in a bad light.
Do say “you” more than “I.”
A cover letter is not an autobiography and the focus should not be on how great your skills are. Instead, emphasize how you can meet the employer’s needs. How you can help them solve their problems. You will do this best if you research and understand the challenges facing them and describe how you can add value to their organization.
Don’t state your salary history or expectations.
Remember, the main purpose of your cover letter and resume is to get you invited in for a job interview. Stating your salary expectations might put up a barrier. Avoid doing so at all costs, unless asked for in the ad.
Do inject personality into your letter.
If nothing else, your cover letter is a demonstration of how well you can write. Show some enthusiasm, personality and humour in your writing. Be convincing as you attempt to sell yourself to the employer. And use creativity, particularly if you are applying for a job in a creative field.
And speaking of humour, I decided to google “worst cover letter ever.” It turns out there’s a lot of competition for this coveted title but here’s one that stood out for me. Ironically, it was written by an individual who was applying for a job with The Daily Muse, an online career advice site. Here goes:
You’re probably reading a lot of applications. And you’re probably not enjoying yourself. I’m writing this cover letter, and am not enjoying myself, either. So, let me cut to the chase.
I won’t pretend that your company mission is my passion, but I do think sales are interesting, and you seem to have a strong background per your LinkedIn page. If you hire me, I’ll show up for the hours you expect me to, and do what’s asked, and you’ll like me. Let’s face it: that puts me ahead of 99% applicants already.
I graduated from (name omitted) and was well-liked there. And you know the importance of that for sales. I am willing to bet that you don’t like the personality of most people who appear to be “qualified” for this entry-level position. That’s because if they’ve had the time to meet the qualifications for this job by the time they graduated college, they likely have no social skills. As someone who was voted “Life of the Party” in both high school and my fraternity, you won’t have to worry about hiring some stiff loser who will poorly represent the youthful image of your company, or any other worries you might have about your new hire being a cultural fit.
You’ll notice I haven’t talked about what skills I have yet. Do I honestly need to? I went to an elite institution, and we all know I’d figure out how to use whatever programs you’d like me to toil away with. Working at your company doesn’t take a rocket scientist, and I think we both know that, but the type of person you hire will matter, especially for your size team. Get back to me if you’re looking for someone you’ll actually enjoy working with.
To share your thoughts on this blog post, please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 10,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn.