For college students and recent graduates, writing about job skills and experience in a cover letter can feel intimidating. If you're new graduate, you may also think a cover letter isn't essential; after all, you've already covered all the important information in your resume.
But your cover letter introduces your style and personality to the hiring manager, and it expands upon the specific points of your resume you want to draw attention to. In fact, a well-written cover letter is a critical component of any job application — it helps your resume stand out in a sea of candidates. On the other hand, one riddled with mistakes can make it easy for the hiring manager to put it in the "no" pile. Check out these three examples of common cover letter mistakes, and make sure your first cover letter doesn't include them.
1. Going overboard with "I"
Your resume should avoid first person language completely, but your cover letter needs your voice and personality to shine through. With that said, keep an eye out for too many "I" statements. "I think" is one of the worst offenders. At best, it's repetitive and unnecessary; at worst, "I think" makes you sound unsure of yourself. Your cover letter should introduce you, give some insight into who you are, and display your confidence and enthusiasm about the position. Using "I" to start too many thoughts shows that you're more interested in talking about yourself than how you can influence the job they have to fill.
2. Repeating your resume
Your cover letter should expand on your resume, not reiterate it. Ideally, the hiring manager will look at your cover letter first, then move onto your resume. If your resume and cover letter appear nearly identical, you'll lose their interest quickly. However, you can use your resume as a starting point for your cover letter. Here are a few examples of how you can use the information in your resume to write an engaging cover letter.
- Resume: Lists core competencies and past positions you've held.
- Cover letter: Expands your skillset by offering more information, such as your career trajectory and the reasons you acquired certain skills.
- Resume: Lists an award you received in college.
- Cover letter: Discusses how hard you worked to earn that award, and what motivated you.
- Resume: Mentions that you spend a semester in Haiti doing earthquake relief.
- Cover Letter: Talks about how your time there helped you develop skills like teamwork and commitment — skills you will put to use in this position.
Use your cover letter to give depth to the list of work experience you put on your resume, not simply restate it.
3. Using the same letter for every position
Don't make one of the common — but serious — cover letter mistakes of sending the same cover letter to every job opening. Just as you tailor your resume to suit the specific job you're applying for, you should also tailor your cover letter as well. Your cover letter gives a glimpse into why you're uniquely suited for the position, so you should tweak it to fit the specific job description.
Once you've researched the position, company and industry to which you're applying, make sure the letter's tone and voice are a good fit. For instance, if you're applying to a job in banking, you'll probably use formal language and industry-specific terminology. If you're applying for a position at a tech startup or an art collective, your tone and voice will change — it may be more creative or casual.
Many qualified candidates fall into the traps of self-focused, repetitive and general cover letters. Knowing how to resist these mistakes can help you craft a well-written, balanced and interesting cover letter that will make managers want to take a second look at your resume.
If you're a first-time applicant fresh out of school, you may be wondering how to write a cover letter for a first job in the first place. LiveCareer's Cover Letter Builder makes it quick and easy to create a mistake-free, well-crafted cover letter that will help you get noticed and land that big interview.