2015 Customized Cover Letter Tips #2

A cover letter serves as your introduction to the company as well as a sample of  your writing skills.  The cover letter gives you the opportunity to clearly state your skills and experience that apply directly to the position they posted.  Rather than hoping they can connect the dots between their needs and your experience, the cover letter enables you to do that.

“So, my skills and experience are what they are so there is no need to customize a letter.”  I often hear that lament from students but they are clearly missing the point.  The cover letter is your opportunity to focus on the relevant skills and experience for the specific position to which you are applying.  You have best chance of success with this position if you are able to tie your skills and experience to the specific needs of the position.

Generic cover letters will never yield the same results.  Most hiring managers can easily spot a generic cover letter. Even when students try to cut and paste the company name and the specific position into a generic cover letter, it is usually obvious that it is still a generic letter.  This also opens the opportunity to miss a cut and paste with the result being a letter with the wrong company name or position title.  That careless error most likely results in a trip to the “no pile.”

Demonstrate your strong interest in the position and the company as well as your professionalism by crafting a customized cover letter for each position.  If the job is worth applying to, it is worth taking the time to customize the cover letter.

Top Ten Cover Letter Mistakes

A well-written, customized cover letter can move your resume to the top of the pile but common errors on your cover letter can result in a quick trip to the “no pile.”  To avoid the dreaded “no pile”, avoid these common cover letter mistakes.

  • Overuse of “I” and “my”— Resist the temptation to start every sentence with “I” or “My”.  Your focus should be on meeting the employer’s need to address a business issue.  Vary your sentence structure and keep the focus on them.  Too many “I”s comes across as self-centered and cocky and demonstrates sub-standard communication skills.  Your cover letter is considered an example of your business writing so put your best foot forward.
  • Typos and Grammatical errors – Proofread your letter and least twice and have someone else read it for you as well.  Do not rely on spell check to identify all the errors.  Hiring managers expect your cover letter to be error free and will often immediately move a candidate to the “no pile” if there are errors in the letter.  The worst is a sentence highlighting your attention to detail which contains errors.
  • Form Letters – To be effective, a cover letter must always be customized to the specific position and company.  Hiring managers who read cover letters often can spot form letters very quickly.  Phrases such as “this position” and “your company” scream form letter.  Candidates often
  • Tentative Language – In your cover letter you want to be confident but not cocky.  Avoid tentative language such as “I think”, “I feel”, “seems like” or “I had to.”  Be honest but always project confidence when sharing your experience.
  • Inconsistent Bullets—It is acceptable to use bullet points in your cover letter to highlight the experience you bring to the job.  Ensure that bullets are consistent in format.  Don’t start some with verbs and others with nouns or mix tenses.  Consistency is important.  Also, don’t use the same bullet points as on your resume.
  • Arrogance—Avoid phrases such as “best candidate” and “perfect fit” when describing your capabilities.  You are really not in a position to make that assessment and it comes across to the reader as arrogant.  You want to be positive and confident but cocky is a turn off.  It is best to demonstrate your capabilities with examples.
  • Lack of Professional Format—A cover letter is a formal business letter.  It should have your contact information on the top with the same heading as your resume.  It should then have a date, an address block and a salutation.  “Dear Mary Jones” is not appropriate for a salutation.  It should read “Dear Ms. Jones”.  Failure to follow official business letter format gives the letter an inappropriate air of casualness.  Demonstrate that you are taking this seriously and that you can compose a proper business letter.  This is also a sample of your written communication skills for the hiring manager.
  • Failure to Connect the Dots—Hiring managers know what they are looking and for and you know what you have done.  Don’t assume they will take the time to connect the dots.  Use your cover letter to clearly identify how your experience and skills meets their needs.
  • Limited Language – Do not use the same words repeatedly in your cover letter.  Use a thesaurus if necessary.  Using the same words and phrases implies that you don’t know other words and that your communication skills are limited.
  • Use of Acronyms – The hiring manager does not know your hiring company.  They will not have a clue what the XYZ project is for the ABC system.  Explain your responsibilities in clear language that anyone could understand.  Don’t let your accomplishments be lost in the acronyms that only insiders understand.

A carefully crafted, customized cover letter can move your resume to the top of the pile for consideration.  Avoid these common mistakes to stay out of the “no pile”.

Distinguish Yourself in a Cover Letter

You see the perfect job posted online and you can’t wait to attach your resume and hit send.  Resist the urge.  Take the time to create a customized cover letter and it will increase the odds of the hiring manager reviewing your resume.  A resume is a historical look at what you have done in the past.  The cover letter is an opportunity to focus on the specific position of interest while highlighting your historical and transferable skills to meet their needs.  Do not assume that the hiring manager will take the time to “connect the dots” between your experience and their needs.  Writing a customized cover letter does that for them.

Focus on Their Needs – the hiring manager has a business need to meet so focus on how you can meet their specific needs.  They really don’t care about what you need and want.  Be very specific in addressing their needs outlined in the job description and show them how you can address their specific needs.

Highlight Transferable Skills – You may not meet every requirement in the job description but you bring valuable transferable skills to the position.  Focus on what you bring and the value it has to them.  Maybe you never worked in that industry before but if you have successfully transitioned to a new industry before, leverage that.  If you never used the particular software they use but have learned new systems quickly in the past, highlight that.

Be Careful with the use of “I” – The cover is letter is about meeting their needs so be very careful not to overuse “I”.  Do not start every paragraph or multiple sentences with “I”.  Think about different ways to get your message across.  Keep it focused on them.

Do not use a generic letter – Most recruiters and hiring managers can easily recognize a template cover letter.  It typically does not relate to the specific job or even the specific  company.  Don’t waste the hiring managers’ time by sending generic letters.  Worse still, avoid the cut and paste errors of referencing the wrong company or position.  That is a guaranteed trip to the “no” pile.

Attention to Detail Matters – Be sure your letter has been proofread for spelling and grammar.  Most employers will consider it a sample of your business writing.  Worse still, don’t cite your attention to detail as an attribute and then have glaring spelling or grammatical errors in the letter.  That is a quick route to the “no” pile.

A successful job search is the result of strategic effort.  It is not about how many positions you can apply to online.  A successful candidate is one who identifies the right positions and then submits a flawless resume and customized cover letter.  Further success comes to those who have also networked at the company in advance.  Don’t let the lack of a cover letter or a poorly written cover letter prevent you from advancing in the process.  If the job is worth applying to, it is worth the time to create a customized cover letter.

Major Turn Offs for Hiring Managers

As seen in the article, “Stalking the Hiring Manager is Not a Good Career Strategy” on eFinancialCareers.com:

With large numbers of applicants for most open positions, what is the job seeker to do?  Many are looking to stand out in the crowd. But, beware.  Standing out in the crowd for the wrong reasons can be the final nail in the coffin for that opportunity.  Here are some major turnoffs for hiring managers which should be avoided at all costs.

Extreme job seekers tend to do things in excess and the employer perception of over the top efforts is not always positive.

Stalking

  • Candidate had identified a target company and went to the company every day for two weeks and asked to meet with different people there.  The candidate would wait in the reception area hoping someone would finally meet with him.  The more he did it, the stranger they thought he was and no one would agree to meet with him.  Networking is critical but stalking is never acceptable.
  • A candidate had an interview and did not hear back in a week as the interviewer had indicated.  The candidate called the interviewer every half hour.  While the candidate did not leave a message every time, the interviewer was able to see eighteen calls from the same number on their phone.  The interviewer considered it harassing behavior and didn’t move forward with the candidate.
  • Reasonable follow-up is expected and is acceptable.  General rule of thumb, three strikes and you are out.  Do not follow-up more than three times with any individual hiring manager or HR contact.

Machine Gun Approach

  • A candidate recently bragged in an interview that he had submitted over 150 cover letters and resumes in the past month.  While kudos for that level of effort, the time would have been much better spent networking and targeting his efforts.  The candidate was using a machine gun approach instead of a more targeted rifle approach.   It gave the interviewer the perspective that the candidate was not particularly interested in their job and their company.
  • Candidates taking the machine gun approach often resort to using generic, template cover letters without any customization about the company or a specific job.  HR folks and hiring managers can spot generic letters at a glance and often immediately discard them.

Errors

  • Don’t write about your attention to detail and then send a resume and/or cover letter with typos or grammatical errors.  Employers expect you to put your best foot forward.  Most hiring managers will automatically discard candidates with errors on their resumes and cover letters.
  • Errors show that you didn’t care enough to double check.
  • If your letter mentions a different job or company it tells the hiring manager you did a cut and paste instead of customizing your letter to them.  Again this is perceived as lack of interest and effort.
  • Do not sent your resume or cover letter in edit mode so the hiring manager can see the edits and comments.  Amazing how frequently this happens and again shows lack of attention to detail.

 Lack of Preparation

  • If you can’t follow the directions in the hiring process, what makes an employer believe you will be able to follow directions on the job?  If it asks you to attach a resume, do it.  If it asks for references, provide them.  Demonstrate that you are prepared and capable of following directions.
  • Don’t assume you know what the job responsibilities are based on the title.  Read the job description and refer to the job accurately in your cover letter.
  • Go online and check our website.  Demonstrate that you took some initiative and learned something about us.  If you have met with networking contacts demonstrate that you know something about the company.
  • Use the website to identify the head of the department with the opening.  Address your cover letter to that person instead of “Dear Hiring Manager.”  Even if someone else is handling the hiring process, it shows that you took initiative.
  • Many applicants don’t bother with a cover letter if it doesn’t indicate that it is required.  They often feel their resume is all that is needed and that their experience speaks for itself.  Guess again.  Don’t make the hiring manager try to understand how your experience relates to what they are looking for.  Don’t expect them to figure out what it is you really want to do next and why.  Write a customized cover letter to address what the hiring manager am looking for and how your experience fits their needs.  If it isn’t obvious you will likely end up in the no pile.
  • Information is available at your fingertips via the internet.  There is absolutely no excuse for not doing your research.  Learn about the company or organization.  Know what we do and who our customers are.  See what you can learn about the department you will be interviewing with.  Often you can also learn about the person interviewing you.  Don’t come in and waste my time by asking what we do.

It’s NOT all about you

  • Obviously you want a job, you are applying for this position.  For the hiring manager, it is about meeting specific business needs and finding a fit for the team.  It is not about what you want or need.  Keep the focus on how you can deliver results for the company.
  • My personal current record is 34 “I”s found in a single cover letter.  First of all it is not a good example of strong business writing to start nearly every sentence with I.  More importantly it is not all about you.  The hiring manager has a business need they are trying to fill.  Your letter should demonstrate how you can help address that need.  It shouldn’t be a summary of your resume or a dissertation on what you really want or need.
  • Most companies are looking for team players.  Filling your resume with “I” can quickly turn off most hiring managers.
  • Those who resort to “cute” over the top measures to remember often find that those approaches backfire.  Don’t send the hiring manager flowers, a cookie bouquet or any other gift.  Do not do anything outside the realm of business professional or you will be making the wrong impression.

While it is important in the job search process to be remembered, candidates want to be remembered positively.  Over the top measures do not lead to positive impressions.  If you annoy the HR staff or the hiring manager, you will not advance in the process.  Also, remember a simple thank you goes a long way and can be a positive differentiator.