When applying for a job, you want to make a great first impression in the few seconds a decision-maker initially scans your application. How you present yourself can either help or hinder your chances of being spotted and moved forward. Our advice to candidates on whether or not to include a cover letter is that if an employer does not explicitly request one in the job listing, you can omit it.
However, when an employer asks for a cover letter, you need to submit one to be considered.
The most effective way to write your cover letter may seem like a mystery. Here we focus as much attention on what not to do when composing your cover letter as what to do.
Let's get into it!
DEAR SIR/MADAM/MR./MRS./MS. OR TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:
The earliest and easiest error to spot is how you address your letter. Sir/Madam tends to translate as too formal and distant in the marketing and creative community. Similarly, with Mr./Mrs./Ms., there's a degree of formality that you won't use in your day-to-day work with that person (unless they expect that). Additionally, you don't want to assume peoples' pronouns until they confirm them.
To Whom It May Concern is too cool and comes across as disinterested in putting in the effort to find the names of the people you're trying to connect with.
What to write instead
Do your research. If a job listing mentions the title of the person who directly supervises the role, you can search the company website and LinkedIn to find their name. A quick Google search of the position title followed by the company name is one quick method. Sometimes you'll need to do some digging to find the name.
When you've found their name, begin your cover letter with, "Dear (First Name) (Last Name):"
If you're unable to suss out the names of the people you'll be working with (according to the job listing), 'Dear Hiring Manager' is perfectly acceptable. Do aim to use that as a last resort, however.
Exceptions to the rule
Titles like Dr., President, Chair, etc., are appropriate in a cover letter greeting. Just make sure that their first and last name follows the title.
NEGLECTING TO NAME THE JOB YOU'RE APPLYING FOR
People tend to overlook this step for a variety of reasons. It's still necessary despite all of them. Your application is usually read by internal recruiters who are reviewing applications for other positions in other departments at the same time.
Unless you've got a reference (or a recruiter!) in contact with the hiring manager, the internal HR team is the gatekeeper in this scenario.
Mention the job title in the first paragraph of your cover letter.
ERRORS BRIDGING YOUR EXPERIENCE AND SKILLS TO YOUR FIT FOR THE ROLE
There's no need to restate the majority of your resume in your cover letter. Sharing information not present in your resume or a few particularly relevant achievements that are in your resume is what you want to have.
Instead of just highlighting what you did (e.g., Designed pitch decks for food and beverage prospects), talk about those skills and experiences through the lens of helping the hiring manager and their team hit their goals as listed in the job ad.
TONE OF VOICE
Absent emojis, your tone of voice comes through in the words you choose. Soft skills like cooperativeness, empathy, humility, and kindness are sought after by employers today.
That doesn't mean you can't imbue confidence into the tone you're conveying in your letter. Share the spotlight with people you've worked with or even your prospective team, and express a willingness to learn from them.
A pain letter identifies (or theorizes) areas where a target company is underperforming or experiencing growing pains in some sense. The writer then proposes solutions based on their experience and skill set.
Given the importance of perceptions and tone in your writing, coming in hot with suggestions and theories about their business is unlikely to put you in the best light. For the sake of teamwork and respect for your prospective manager and team, it's best to avoid this type of cover letter.
It's always acceptable to relate the skills you used in your prior achievements to goals identified in the job listing. Otherwise, let the team fill you in on their growing pains during the interview stage.
Watch out for words like compliments versus complements and so forth.
KEEP IT SHORT AND SWEET.
The best cover letters are concise. It's hard to summarize why you're such an exceptional candidate (and you are!) in a one-page, three-or-four-paragraph letter. It's no easier when each cover letter should be tailored to the specific role and company you're targeting. But, avoiding these seven pitfalls will prevent your cover letter from working as kryptonite to your candidacy.
Give yourself time to write your letter, cut down on less relevant information clearly visible in your resume, and let someone you know and trust read it.
Good luck, and warm regards!
The Elysian Team