I have yet to meet a job hunter who doesn't dread writing cover letters. They're time-consuming and tedious, and unfortunately, they're unavoidable. It's easy to break cover letter etiquette if you're not careful. Those errors can cost you the job, so check out some common mistakes to be sure you're playing by the most important rules.
Failing to Emphasize the Company
Explain not what the company can do for you, it's what you can do for the company. Cover letters are often "I" filled proclamations of a candidate's attributes and fail to connect how their skills could benefit the employer.
Duplicating What's on the Resume
A cover letter is supposed to say everything you don't have room for on your resume and is the place to highlight certain relevant accomplishments. If your cover letter and resume are barely distinguishable, it's a sign that you might not have enough to offer.
Forgetting to Include Contact Information
Your contact information is one detail you should duplicate on both your resume and cover letter. If the two get separated, the hiring manager will know how to contact the person that wrote such a compelling cover letter.
Leading With a Blah Intro
Recent college graduates often make the mistake of mentioning their new degree in the first line of their cover letters. By doing this, you're suggesting that your educational background is the best thing you have to offer. All applicants, new grads or not, should come up with an attention-grabbing introductory line.
Skipping the Extra Mile
At all costs, avoid addressing your cover letter with "To Whom It May Concern." It's stuffy and shows that you didn't take the extra step to find the appropriate name. Sometimes all it takes is a call to the company's receptionist or an Internet search may do.
Making It Too Long or Too Short
Limit yourself to a maximum four paragraphs. Use the first paragraph to introduce yourself and the position you're applying for, then mention applicable skills and specific achievements while demonstrating your knowledge of the company, further explain your suitability if your resume can't say it all (like if you're changing careers), and sign off politely letting them know you'll be in touch.
Sending Out a General Letter
One big sign that an applicant hasn't taken the time to customize the cover letter: when the company name is incorrect. Seriously, it happens all the time. Prevent this embarrassing mistake by taking the time to edit each letter to fit every position you're applying for.
Including Personal Details
Your cover letter is no place for details like your age and marital status, or gender and religion for that matter, unless these details are somehow relevant to the position.
Playing It Too Cool, or Being Too Stuffy
Your goal is to make the cover letter conversational while maintaining a professional vibe. The goal is to entice the employer to call you for an interview, and they're not necessarily going to want to meet someone who seems too stiff. At the same time, a letter that's too casual might suggest you're not serious about the job. Aim for somewhere in between.
Submitting a Sloppy Letter
You're better than sending off a letter that's full of typos and grammatical errors. But so many people aren't patient enough to proofread their work and end up submitting sloppy cover letters. An employer will recognize this as carelessness and pass you over for someone who took the time.
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