Cover Letter Dos and Don’ts: A Deal Breaker (4 Tips)

The majority of new job applicants look at the cover letter as something they can quickly write and then move on to their next application. This is nearly always a mistake and will often put the applicant’s materials in the ‘no’ pile. If an applicant isn’t willing to write an outstanding cover letter and take the time and effort to do some research, it lets potential employers know that the applicant is just looking for a job, not a job at their company. It’s important to know a few phrases that will kill a cover letter as well as some that can bring application materials to the top of the pile. Below is a list of cover letter dos and don’ts from a private Irvine college consultant.


1. Salutations and greetings

It’s important never to use terms such as “dear hiring manager” or “to whom it may concern”. This lets the hiring manager, who has a first and last name, know that the applicant didn’t take the time to figure out who they are. 15 or 20 years ago it may have been somewhat difficult to find out somebody’s name, however, in today’s world of social media and online company profiles it’s not that hard to find out who will be reviewing a cover letter and resume. Applicants very rarely pick up the phone, but it’s certainly a good idea to call the company and ask who the hiring manager is if it’s impossible to find them online.

2. Repetitive information

It’s essential not to repeat information that is already stated in the resume because this will likely get the entire application file tossed in the trash. HR managers spend the whole day looking at job applications and dealing with interpersonal relationships within the office environment. When an HR Manager reads the same information over and over again, it feels like a waste of their time and they will likely not be convinced to call an applicant in for an interview. Anything that’s already written on the resume, which will be attached to the cover letter, should not be rewritten in the cover letter (READ: “5 Steps to Acing a Job Interview”).

3. Be unique

The cover letter is an applicant’s opportunity to show that they are a unique and interesting individual with something to offer the company that stands out from the crowd. Resumes only leave a job seeker one page to express anything and everything they have done related to the position they are applying to. This leaves many people feeling that they have not expressed their full self as a well-rounded individual. This is the purpose of a cover letter. If an applicant spent a summer in South America building houses or if they volunteer every week at a nursing home, this is the place to discuss it. Additionally, any personal interest that would relate to the job (for example if somebody is an avid kayaker and cyclist and they’re applying for a personal trainer position) should be mentioned in the cover letter. Discussing volunteer work and applicable hobbies will let the HR Manager know that the applicant has a genuine interest in that particular position, not just any job they see advertised online.

4. Proofread!

Grammar, spelling, or issues with the flow and sentence structure can make a cover letter dry at best or incomprehensible at worst. It’s crucial that the cover letter is proofread by at least two people. The applicant should be doing several proofreads as they go along, but they should also have another person look at it with fresh eyes. If the applicant is already working with a private tutor who has helped them throughout their college career, it’ll probably only take half an hour or so for them to conduct a basic proofread and make some minor suggestions or a couple hours to rework the cover letter in its entirety if necessary. Job seekers who have not been working with a tutor can ask an English major friend from college (READ: “Tips from a San Diego College Tutor: Office Communication”).

Bottom line

Although many job seekers don’t think about it, the cover letter is truly a make-it-or-break-it part of any application. Regardless of the person’s field or the specifics of the job, the cover letter is their opportunity to either shine or get lost in the crowd.

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