Listed below are some things to bear in mind — as well as some to avoid — when putting together a cover letter.
- Address your letter to a named individual, particularly the hiring manager if possible.
- Make the most of your opening paragraph.
- Project confidence, but don't be arrogant.
- Use simple language and uncomplicated sentence structure, and eliminate all unnecessary words.
- Submit a cover letter for every posting you respond to, unless specifically directed otherwise.
- Focus directly on the requirements of the job and how you can fill them, especially when responding to a posting.
- Keep it brief, aiming for no more than one page, and less than a full page if possible. A good rule of thumb is to have 30 to 40 percent blank space on a cover letter. If your letter is too long, it may never be read at all.
- Try to answer the question employers and other recipients will be asking themselves as they read your letter, "Why should I meet with this person?"
- Be negative or too humble. Focus instead on the reasons the reader should want to talk with you.
- Leave the ball in the employer's court. Avoid closing your letter with, "I look forward to hearing from you." Be proactive. Request a meeting, conversation or interview, tell the recipient when you plan to follow up to arrange it, and then do so.
- Send a cover letter that contains typos, misspellings, or incorrect grammar or punctuation.
- Send letters that are obviously photocopied or otherwise mass-produced. Send an original letter to each prospective employer. Hiring managers can spot a generic cover letter right away.
- Tell the employer what the company can do for you. Instead, focus on showing how you can meet their needs and contribute to the company. Employers may like to have happy, motivated employees, but they don't really care whether you see the company fulfilling your dreams.
- Rehash your resume. You can use your cover letter to highlight the aspects of your resume that are relevant to the position, but you're wasting precious space and the potential employer's time if you simply repeat your resume.
- Try to include too much detail or be too general. Hone in on the precise descriptions of the accomplishments that qualify you for the job.
- Expect a potential employer to figure out where you'd best fit into the organization, or to offer career counseling, especially in response to an opening. Be clear and focused from the outset of your letter, and avoid catch-all phrases like, "I am seeking a position with growth potential." Remember, it's not the employer's job to help you clarify your career goals!