When it comes to job applications, many candidates treat the cover letter as an afterthought. This is a mistake; your cover letter (along with your résumé) is your first chance to make a dynamite impression on a recruiter or company’s HR staff.
If you want your cover letter to enhance your application and résumé, make sure you avoid the following things:
Overreliance On a Template
Many candidates’ first error: Relying too much on a template to build their cover letter. Although your cover letter shouldn’t be too informal, it should also showcase your unique skills and personality. You’re telling a story—the narrative of you as an awesome professional.
Most templates begin in a very standard-issue way. “My name is [X], and I am applying for the position of [X],” for example. Sure, you’re conveying the information, but you’re not grabbing the attention of someone who’s devoting a very limited amount of time to reading your materials. Instead, focus on a pithy opening that “grabs” the reader. For example:
“Ever since I used Hadoop to save my dog’s life when I was eighteen, I’ve been fascinated with data analytics.”
Chances are good that nobody’s ever used an open-source framework for distributed data processing to save a beloved canine’s life, but you get the point: Your first paragraph should ensure they want to read your second (and third) paragraph.
Going Over One Page
While some tech pros will debate all day over whether you should write a résumé longer than one page, keeping your cover letter to one page is a chiseled-in-stone law. The best cover letters not only convey your experience and skills, but do so in as expedited a manner as possible.
Just as with your résumé, use active verbs whenever possible to convey your responsibilities and accomplishments; reliance on passive verbs and sentence structures will do nothing but drain the energy from your descriptions.
Salutations are potential minefields. “Dear sir” could come off as sexist; “To Whom It May Concern” or “To Sir or Madam” shows you didn’t do enough research. Engage in a bit of online searching, find the name of the hiring manager you want to impress, and use their first and last name in the salutation; that will help you avoid stepping on a landmine. (Even if your application package doesn’t end up in front of the hiring manager you’ve addressed, your attention to detail will be noted.)
Typos and Incorrect Grammar
Such things obviously have no place in your cover letter. While it’s tempting to shoot out a cover letter and résumé without having someone else read it over—especially if you’re applying for a lot of jobs within a short period, and think you don’t have the time for a second pair of eyes—any proofreading is always worth it, because the alternative is never getting a call for a job interview if you have a typo (or three).