Job Search: Cover Letters that Land Interviews
A cover letter is your opportunity to offer employers a snapshot of who you are and what you can bring to the company. Don’t ruin this critical introduction with ho-hum statements and inattention to detail. Instead, learn from mistakes these career experts have witnessed applicants make time and again.
Dale Austin, director of career development at Hope College in Holland, Mich., notes the importance of the opening. He urges candidates to take the time to address the cover letter to an individual if possible since personalization sets a good tone. Then, avoid the tendency to craft a first paragraph that sounds like every other one the hirer receives: “I am applying for X role, and I have attached my resume.”
“Have some original thinking to your cover letter,” Austin stresses. “Address why you are interested in working for X company. You do not have to write a dissertation, but having one or two nuanced – not canned – statements is important.”
Robert Liddell, director of career planning at Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, Fla., says the purpose of the letter should always be foremost in mind. “Well received, personable writing should communicate enthusiasm, passion, and warmth, but these are second-order effects. The primary aim of the cover letter is to persuade its reader to further consider the applicant's qualifications for an opening with an organization. Many students I meet and work with jump head-long into writing a cover letter without spending time planning out this side of a rather specific writing assignment.”
Liddell also warns that he is seeing an increasing reliance on an informal, conversational tone in cover letters and that while some applicants hope to convey a distinctive personality through their more expressive application, many go well past the point where distinctive is positive – leaving the reader with a profoundly negative impression.
Lastly, both Austin and Liddell cannot stress enough the importance of proofing for errors. “Candidates will have a difficult time convincing an employer that they 'have a keen eye for detail' or 'are strong communicators' if their lone submission is riddled with obvious spelling and grammatical errors,” Liddell says.