Since writing a good cover letter can be a precarious balancing act, these cover letter "dos" and "don'ts" can keep you on track.
You want your cover letter to reveal the best version of you to your potential employer. You don't want to sound too stiff or formal, but using an excessively casual tone can make you appear rude or incompetent. You don't want your cover letter to look exactly like every other applicant's, but getting too creative can get you into trouble. The cover letter presents many challenges as it is an open-ending explanation of your marketable skills. Follow these cover letter "dos" and "don'ts" to keep yourself from veering off target.
Cover Letter Dos
- Do personalize your letter. Address the person and the company you are writing to by name. Better yet --write a new cover letter for each company and customize the content for each position you apply for.
- Do make your point succinctly. This is not a book--you only get one page. In the 200-250 words that you have, be sure that you are offering real information and not just fluff.
- Do proofread. Sloppy mistakes could cost you the job. And if grammar's not your best subject, you don't want to stamp that fact all over your cover letter when you are trying to land a job. Get some help if you need it, but make sure your cover letter is flawless.
- Do keep your audience in mind. Focus on how your skills can help the company. Try to put yourself in your hiring managers' shows and ask yourself what they would want to see.
- Do promise to follow up--and follow through on your promise. If you say you will call them the next week, call them the next week.
Cover Letter Don'ts
- Don't send a generic cover letter to every company in town. Hiring managers see these all the time, and if yours sounds generic or canned, they will see you as nobody special. Take the time to tailor your cover letter to each company.
- Don't exaggerate. Unsubstantiated claims often sound like bragging. Give real life examples of your strengths in action and avoid misrepresenting your qualifications.
- Don't be modest. While you don't want to brag, don't sell yourself short either. Don't under-represent your strengths--the hiring manager wants to know what you have to offer. It's the whole point of the cover letter.
- Don't be negative.
- Don't talk about your weaknesses.
- Don't badmouth previous employers.
- Don't end passively. "I'll wait to hear from you" does not count as a statement of action. Tell the hiring manager that you will call, write, or e-mail to follow up.
Following Cover Letter Dos and Don'ts
Because so many people don't follow common cover letter guidelines, simply following the cover letter "do's" and "don'ts" will give you an edge over the competition. Keep it simple and don't over-think it. A traditional, well-written cover letter will speak volumes about your competence and professionalism. These cover letter "do's" and "don'ts" outline what hiring managers do and don't want to see-- give them what they want.
Learning how to write a quality cover letter is an important step in landing your dream job. If you need help getting started, use LiveCareer to create a winning cover letter.