As you search for a job in the U.S. from South Africa, it is a good idea to submit a cover letter with a resume even if the need for such a letter is not specified in the job posting. Hiring managers will read your letter anyway, and it is an opportunity for you to expand on a certain aspect of your background. However, cover letter mistakes are common, even from U.S. jobseekers. Here’s a review of these frequent errors so you can prevent them.
Generic cover letters for a job in the U.S. from South Africa certainly do have appeal; you write a cover letter one time, and you’re done. The bad news is that this approach likely will not be successful. Each job posting uses certain words and emphasizes specific skills or experience. Instead, tailor each letter you send so employers know you understand the requirements of the job and possess the necessary attributes to be successful in the position.
Copying Your Resume for a Job in the U.S. From South Africa
While you would not copy your resume word for word, you could still rehash your work history in a cover letter, presenting it in paragraph form instead of list form. Don’t do this as you apply for a job in the U.S. from South Africa. Make your cover letter interesting in its own right. It can expand on a point in your resume. For example, you can say you got into fundraising because of a personal experience, and briefly describe it. Similarly, you can use a few sentences to describe why you want to work for a particular company. Perhaps you admire its mission or know wonderful people who work there.
One common mistake is being vague. This can happen by using words such as “very experienced” when a detail such as “eight years in retail” would be better. Likewise, skip phrases such as “I think” and “I feel.” It is stronger to say something such as, “I am confident that…” or “My background is…”
Writing Too Short or Too Long
Your cover letter should be one page—never two or three pages, never half a page. However, too much text on that one page is unattractive. It’s a great idea to use bullet points and paragraphs of no more than three sentences. Aim for five paragraphs at the most as you write cover letters for a job in the U.S. from South Africa.
Skipping Your Value
Include a unique selling proposition, also called unique selling point, in your letter. This is the value you offer the employer that no one else can. It could be your perspective on the business as a South African. It could be your record of accomplishments. As you work to determine your selling proposition, look at areas such as perceptiveness, financial savvy and conflict resolution. They bring together your skills and the benefit the company stands to realize.
Use statements that convey what you have to offer the employer. Companies don’t care as much about how they can help you, so avoid sentences along the lines of, “I want to make a lot of money,” or “I’m glad this job offers flexible hours because I need to care for my ailing mother.”
Sending It Right Away
Sending your cover letter right away is a mistake because you have not proofread. Make sure you review it for typos and to ensure that all spelling and grammar conforms to American English. It could be a huge help if you can get an American citizen with proven English skills to review your cover letter.
If you are attaching documents such as a digital portfolio, mention so in the cover letter. Alternatively, if your portfolio is on a website, you can simply link to it from text in your letter. Avoid the common mistakes listed above, and you should do well.