Next to online dating profiles, cover letters may just be the scariest things to write. And the stakes are equally high.
"Countless smart job seekers have never heard back because their cover letters sabotaged them," says Paul Freiberger, a career coach based in San Mateo, California and author of When Can You Start? Ace the Job Interview and Get Hired.
We asked Freiberger and other career experts to weigh in on what they think are the most fatal cover letter flaws. The top five follow.
Avoid these, and you'll have a better chance of landing the interview.
Mistake #1: Not sending a letter at all
"The resume is data, but the cover letter is you," says Freiberger. "It's your voice. And it highlights aspects of your career that might otherwise get lost in the resume."
A good cover letter allows you to show very quickly why you're the right person for the job, explain special circumstances like gaps in employment, and mention any personal references you might have.
"The only time you shouldn't send one is if a company asks you not to," says Sarasota, Florida-based career coach Phyllis Mufson. "Otherwise, they'll think you don't know how to follow instructions. "
Most experts suggest including the cover letter in the body of an email as well as a PDF attachment to ensure that it will be read.
Mistake #2: Addressing your letter to no one
The days of "Dear Hiring Manager" and "To Whom it May Concern" are over.
"Job postings may not always include the names of hiring managers, but you should always go the extra mile and try to find them," says Wilmington, Delaware.-based Michael Lan, a senior resume consultant at resume writing service Resume Writer Direct.
Not using a real name implies that you're not very resourceful. All it takes is a few minutes of online sleuthing or a few calls to the company's HR department to find a name and take the "robot speak" out of your salutation.
Mistake #3: Doing an obvious copy and paste
Sure, it's exhausting to personalize each and every cover letter. But that's what you have to do if you want to get hired.
"Generic cover letters send a message that you're not that interested," says Miriam Salpeter, Atlanta social media and job search consultant and author of Social Networking for Career Success.
Stumped by the blank page? Mufson suggests listing the job description on one side of a page and where your qualifications match up on the other. That's a great place to start for a short and simple cover letter.
Mistake #4: Putting your reader to sleep
"Without writing a novel, try to say something personal to make your letter stand out," Salpeter suggests. "If you're applying to work at a company that makes running shoes, and your first pair of special shoes came from them, mention it."
When in doubt, think of your cover letter as your elevator pitch. It's your one chance to "hook" the reader before they move on to a vast pile of applicants after you. "The cover letter creates the first impression," says Frieberger. "It's you. It's your voice. It's the prelude to the interview."
So worry less about sounding like everyone else, and take the opportunity to show who you are and why you're the right person for the job.
Mistake #5: Forgetting to prufreed proofread
"You'd be surprised how many of the cover letters I read that are filled with simple typos and spelling or grammatical errors," says Lan.
Experts say that's the kind of thing that can get a perfectly decent candidate thrown into the "reject" pile, since it shows the person doesn't exhibit a high standard for his or her own work.
Always proofread your resume multiple times and have your friends or family members have a read through before pressing "send."
That simple move just might keep you in the game — and get you one step closer to landing your next great job.
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