Cover Letter

What is a 'Cover Letter'

A cover letter is a written document submitted with a job application explaining the applicant's credentials and interest in the open position. Since a cover letter is often one of only two documents sent to a potential employer, a well- or poorly-written letter (or email) can impact whether the applicant will be called for an interview.

Breaking Down 'Cover Letter'

A good cover letter complements a resume by expanding on resume items relevant to the job, and in essence, makes a sales pitch for why the applicant is the best person for the position. Career experts advise job seekers to spend time customizing each cover letter for the particular position, rather than using a generic missive. Although this requires extra effort, it can be very helpful in allowing an applicant to stand out above the competition.

Common Cover Letter Mistakes

A perfect resume is often sabotaged by a poorly thought-out or mistake-heavy cover letter. Whether you are including the letter as per required submission guidelines, or you simply want to emphasize your interest in the job, make sure that you avoid making these seven blunders. (For more, see 10 Resume Red Flags.)

  1. Getting Names Wrong
    Although you are probably applying to a number of different jobs in your search, you obviously don't want to share this information with hiring managers; you want them to think their position is The One. But nothing screams "form letter" than to have the wrong company name or position on the cover letter, probably because you forgot to change it from the last job you applied for. This bit of carelessness is not only sloppy – it's probably the surest way to not get an interview.
  2. Restating Your Resume
    The purpose of the cover letter is to identify your skills and explain how your previous experience is applicable to the desired position. Simply restating all of the facts on your resume, without going into an explanation of why your expertise and background are pertinent, defeats the purpose, and in fact makes it redundant. The cover letter has to build on the information presented on the resume, not just summarize it.
  3. Unreasonable Length
    Keep your letter tight. Although you may have much useful information to offer, keep in mind that recruiters will often go through hundreds of applications. They simply do not have time to read through a three-page missive, even if you feel all of the information is important. The absolute maximum length for a cover letter, including the headings, should be one page. Typically, it should be shorter. (What changes when you're looking for a job online? Find out in 5 Tips For Finding Your Perfect Job Online.)
  4. Adding Unnecessary Information                                                                                                                                                                                   One trick to keeping the letter succinct: Focus on your relevant qualifications to the role. If applying for an accounting position, the fact that you have graphic-design skills should not be prime focal point. It's also best to leave off positive but personal things like your IQ – while undoubtedly important for any role, adding it to your cover letter is just plain weird. And recreational accomplishments, interests and hobbies are rarely worth mentioning, unless they relate in some way to the job or company: If applying to a sporting goods manufacturer, for example, saying that you're an avid golfer could add an interesting personal touch. 
  5. Identifying Weaknesses
    Speaking of unnecessary information: Talking about your shortcomings is not only complete waste of space, but also counterproductive. While "What are your greatest weaknesses?" is a common interview question, there's no reason to bring them up ahead of time. Your cover letter is all about identifying the strengths that make you so right for the role.
  6. Sounding Arrogant
    Although you're trumpeting your strengths, try to ensure that your cover letter does not portray you as arrogant. Excessive overuse of the words "I", "me" or "my" can make you sound conceited (not to mention having a limited vocabulary and poor writing skills). Yes, the cover letter is ultimately about you and your accomplishments, but you have to find a way of saying "I'm the best" without actually saying it. (For more, see Top 8 Ways To Get Your Resume Thrown Out.)
  7. Spelling and Grammar Mistakes                                                                                                                                                                                  Typos and grammatical errors are a key issue, signaling you didn't even bother to proofread your own letter. And no, you can't rely on your computer's spelling and grammar checks – because it won't catch words that are correctly spelled, but incorrectly used (like "it's" and "its"). Also unprofessional-looking: typographical inconsistencies, like conveying a dash with "--" in one place and with "—" in another. This lack of attention to detail is frowned on, no matter what your field.