Are you sending the same cover letter out to every job opportunity? If the answer is yes, you're making a classic job search mistake. Hiring managers glance over hundreds of cover letters a day, so job seekers that use the "shot-in-the-dark" approach tend to blend in rather than stand out.
Fact is, you can't effectively prove that you're the perfect candidate with a generic, cookie-cutter cover letter. A personalized cover letter that is written specifically for the opportunity and the company will help you get a hiring manager's attention.
It does take a little bit more effort to write a customized cover letter, but it is time well spent. Here are some simple rules that will help you create an effective, personalized cover letter:
Choose one achievement to describe or one story to tell that will illustrate what a great candidate you are for the position. Too many people use the "shot-gun approach" by including a long list of skills, which frankly, belong in your resume.
Paint a picture
Don't cover the same ground as your resume, instead, use the cover letter to describe your career progression or the challenges you've overcome in richer detail.
Hiring managers are looking for job fit and company match. Make sure that your cover letter reflects the same tone and feel as the job ad. For example, if the company is traditional, use a more formal, professional tone. If the job ad is written in a fun and creative way, follow the company's lead in your cover letter.
Hiring managers don't need to know the intimate details of your personal history. While it's true that your cover letter should be a more personal compared to your resume, it shouldn't be a therapeutic outlet.
Don't dwell on setbacks, layoffs, politics or office dysfunction in your cover letter. It will only backfire--you'll come across as defensive, difficult to work with, desperate--or all three. None of which works in your favor. Instead, emphasize what you achieved in your position rather than why you left.
For job-specific examples of cover letter openers, go to our Cover Letter Builder.