Three Common Cover Letter Mistakes to Avoid

March 11th, 2016

While your resume may take center stage during the review process, a strong cover letter can mean the difference between landing the job and missing the mark. Your cover letter can add supporting detail to your claims and accomplishments, and it can help you explain some of the omissions or credentials that don’t shine as brightly as you might like. Most important, your cover letter helps your reviewers put a human face on the facts and details listed in your resume. So as you draft and edit your document, don’t miss an opportunity to stand out, and watch out for these common mistakes.

Length issues

Don’t push your cover letter past the limits of about one page of printed text or 400 words in an email. If you go on too long, your readers might tune out before they reach the end, which is bad. But worse, they might read all the way to the end and then forget half of what they read two minutes later. Keep your message tight and concise. At the same time, a message that’s too short represents a missed opportunity. Use the entire page to make your case and share your background.

Wooden sentences

As you complete your cover letter, try to share your information in the form of a story. Make yourself the protagonist, or your reader. Talk about a problem your employers need to solve and how you can help. Talk about the moment you first developed a passion for this work. Talk about your recent career history and the ambitions that drove you to apply to this company. But tell a story; don’t just list a set of random facts or sentences that all start with “I”.

Studies show that message are far more effective and memorable if they’re structured as a narrative, or a series of events that flow into each other. Use this approach as you present who you are, what you can do, and what you want.

Weak beginnings and endings

The most important sections of your letter will be your opening paragraph and your final closing statement, so give these sections more attention than the rest. Keep them interesting, respectful, and fluid. Imagine your letter falling into a puddle and the middle section becoming unreadable; if this happens, will the beginning and ending still be able to stand alone? The answer should be yes. Use your first and last statements to show enthusiasm and readiness for the job.

For more on how to create a cover letter that stands out and grabs the spotlight, contact the staffing, career development, and job search professionals at PSU.

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