by Alex A. Kecskes
The all-important cover letter. Write it right and you could get an interview. Write it wrong and you can kiss the interview—and the job—bye-bye. What not to include as an interviewee:
- Too Long or Too Short. A decent cover letter should be between 200 to 250 words. It’s where you dovetail your experience with the specific needs of the employer. The key is to put in one or two past experience details--backed by numbers--that sell your ability to do the job.
- Personal Anecdotes. Save the “climbing Mt. Everest” stories for the face-to-face interview. Employers don’t have the time to wade through your marathon runner stories, your river rafting exploits, or how you saved your best friend from that grizzly in the woods. Stay focused on your heroic work achievements.
- “Canned Phraseology.” If you use a cover letter template or take notes from a career coach, vary the wording and make the letter uniquely yours. Stay away from “canned” retread opening sentences like 'Enclosed is my resume, which highlights the experience, skills and education I believe you’re looking for in a candidate. Instead, lead off with something you learned about the company. It’s amazing all the details you can find about a company on the Internet.
- No Negatives, No Faults. Employers may ask for these in a face-to-face interview, but never volunteer any weaknesses in a cover letter.
- Hubris. The cover letter is no place to be cocky (neither is the interview). So avoid superlatives and stick to the facts. Don’t embellish. Sell them on your ability to handle all aspects of the job. Write as if your best friend will be reading the letter, someone who knows when you’re doing a “snow job.”
- Right Cover Letter, Wrong Company. It’s a common mistake make by thousands of applicants, especially in these tough times when everyone is shot-gunning multiple applications to dozens of companies. Double check every cover letter and make sure it’s to the right prospective employer.
- No Humor. Unless you’re a pro who used to do standup—and you’re applying for a job as a joke writer or copywriter for humorous commercials--leave out the jokes and any attempts to be funny.
For an added perspective, check out this video:
Got any thoughts on cover letter no-nos? Feel free to share them in the comments section.
Alex A. Kecskes has written hundreds of published articles on health/fitness, "green" issues, TV/film entertainment, restaurant reviews and many other topics. As a former Andy/Belding/One Show ad agency copywriter, he also writes web content, ads, brochures, sales letters, mailers and scripts for national B2B and B2C clients. Please see more of his blogs and view additional job postings on Beyond.com.