Very few job opportunities do not require a cover letter. Cover letters are a must-have in the application process because they give you an opportunity to showcase your skills beyond the traditional resume.
Each part of your cover letter reveals something important to potential employers — whether you want the job or not. And unfortunately for some job seekers, not all of the revelations are positive.
Take a look at some examples of real-life cover letter sentences that don’t quite make the cut in the competitive hiring landscape.
1. “My skills and experience are an excellent fit for this position.”
At the beginning of every cover letter, state the position you’re applying to. Then describe exactly how your skills and experience are a good fit.
Employers are not interested in applicants who will jump at just any job. They want applicants who have their eyes on the open position and who have relevant experience. By generically stating you’d be a great fit for the position, you admit to hiring managers that you haven’t taken the time to find the specific job title, review the qualifications or think about how your specific skill set meshes with the role.
To avoid this perception, be specific.
Your initial statement should sound something like this: “With ten years of experience in the stock market, I am seeking a position as a day trader with ABC Investments.” This shows you actually care about the particular position and took the time to research the job title and customize your cover letter.
2. “I have been looking for an opportunity to work in this industry.”
Employers want to hire someone who cares about their company, not someone who finds all companies in a particular industry interchangeable.
Don’t wait for the interview to show you’ve done your homework. For example, when applying for a store manager position at Jamba Juice, a statement like, “I have a dedicated work ethic and years of experience as a chef,” doesn’t work. Jamba Juice is known for hiring upbeat, energetic employees. The business specializes in smoothies — not French cuisine.
Instead think about how your past experience applies specifically to Jamba Juice.
If you write a cover letter specific to an industry and not a particular company, you’re wasting an opportunity to show your passion for this specific company — something hiring managers look for.
3. “Thank you for taking the time to read my resume.”
Studies show that people who ask for raises are more likely to get them. The same concept is true in your job application. Ending a cover letter with a request for an interview will lead to more job offers.
Weak closing messages like, “Thank you for your time,” or “I hope to talk with you soon,” give the hiring manager a choice: To call you back, or not to call you back. Asking for an interview creates the impetus for the hiring manager to at least call back in response to your application.
Address your cover letter to a specific person. Look up the name of the hiring manager or human resource manager before you send it off. If the company website does not list the hiring manager’s name, call the business directly. You’ll show a heightened level of interest and indicate you’re serious about this job.
4. “I am an experienced, goal-oriented team player.”
Hiring managers read cover letters all day long. They are used to reading the same words and phrases in each letter. If you write a cover letter with the generic format, you express you’re a generic candidate who didn’t put much thought into how your experience or goal orientation fits in with the role.
Resumes and cover letters should show personal qualities, not tell about them. (Click here to tweet this thought.)
Instead, think about writing statements like this: “I served as the COO of Plant Pharmaceuticals for ten years. During that time, I managed a team of 50 people and set aggressive revenue goals. Last year, our executive team wanted to increase departmental revenue by three percent, but I was able to bring in an additional six percent by introducing an innovative social media strategy that drove over 100,000 new sales.”
The last statement shows all of the same generic qualities, but backs them up with actual facts.
5. “I’m everything that you’re looking for… and more!”
Job postings often include keywords that show what the company wants in an employee. These keywords represent skill sets that are important because they can be used in your cover letter.
Incorporated these keywords into your cover letter so that hiring managers — and more importantly, applicant tracking systems — will better understand that you have the necessary talents and pay attention to each detail.
If a job posting requests an employee who is punctual and willing to learn new skills, you should incorporate these two attributes in your cover letter. This instantly shows that you understand the needs of the position.
6. “I look forward to you’re response.”
It sounds crazy, but spelling and punctuation are common cover letter problems. In a recent study by Grammarly, we learned there are five errors on a typical cover letter or resume. The top mistakes include verb tense, hyphen use, formatting and careless spelling mistakes (words that are spelled correctly but used in the wrong context).
Before sending your resume or cover letter, always spell check and proofread your document first. Better yet, have a grammar-minded friend do it for you. Misspellings, typos and errors show you lack attention to detail.
A cover letter is one of the first pieces of information a hiring manager receives about you. Many hiring managers use your cover letter to read between the lines and figure out what type of person you are. This piece of paper will determine if you get an interview or not.
So what do you want your cover letter to portray? That you’re careless, generic and arrogant? Or that you’re meticulous, dedicated and passionate? Although the interview will ultimately determine if you are hired, your cover letter is your secret password to make it to the interview.
Max Lytvyn, co-founder and head of product strategy for Grammarly, drives the future direction and technical integration of Grammarly’s product portfolio. Connect with Max, the Grammarly team and more than one million Grammarly Facebook fans at www.facebook.com/grammarly.
by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
The college student who has been wise enough (or broke enough) to garner some work experience while in school may hold a competitive edge over the classmate who’s done little more than hit the books for four years. If the work was at the lowest level and outside your field, however, the experience can seem difficult to relate to the first post-college job.
How can someone who has been a server in a restaurant every summer portray himself or herself as God’s gift to marketing, for example? How can the retail associate at the mall near the university appear to be a fabulous teacher? How can the low-level office clerk position himself or herself as exactly the person an accounting firm needs?
It’s all a question of breaking down your previous jobs, no matter how lowly they seem, into the skills they provided you with that you can transfer to your ideal post-college job. Let’s look first at the most global and overarching skills and qualities. If we look at the lists of skills mentioned by hiring managers, recruiters, and career experts alike, we find certain characteristics common to all three:
- Communication skills (oral and written)
- Teamwork/group/interpersonal skills
- Leadership skills
- Work-ethic traits, such as drive, stamina, effort, self-motivation, diligence, ambition, initiative, reliability, positive attitude toward work
- Logic, intelligence, proficiency in field of study
Thus, these five skill clusters can be considered the most important in your first post-college job, and some or all of them will be required in just about any job in your career. You can hardly go wrong if you describe in your cover letter how your previous experience has provided you with one or more of these skills. Talking about the in-demand skills you possess in your cover letter can work even if your past work seems totally unrelated to the job you seek.
Career counselor Patrick O’Brien sums up his list of winning characteristics into just two “career commonalties,” noting that:
“Whatever a person does, his or her job is to do two things: solve problems and satisfy customers. The problems and customers can be tremendously different depending on the field,” O’Brien says, “but at the end of the day, that is what a person is paid to do. On a global level, employers are looking for the same characteristics.”
Beyond these commonalities and the five skill clusters, experts mention additional sought-after skills and characteristics, including:
- Organizational skills
- Entrepreneurial skills, a popular contemporary buzzword that encompasses the skills that people use when they start their own businesses. These skills include the capacity to be a self-starter, the ability to manage projects, and a talent for marketing oneself.
- Critical thinking and problem-solving skills
- Ability to acquire new technical, analytical, computer or foreign-language skills quickly
- The ability to sell ideas and persuade others
- Creative problem-solving talents
- Ability to follow orders
Now, let’s look at some lower-level jobs that college students typically hold while in school and examine how — in a single paragraph — these students can describe these jobs in their cover letters in terms of transferable and applicable skills that relate to post-college jobs they’re applying for:
Here are two more excerpts from cover letters that effectively exploit transferable and applicable skills:
I have held a number of marketing internships, and I am quite experienced with computer technology. As an information technology minor, I have designed systems, configured databases, and created my own Web page. You can visit my site at http://www.mcnet.edu/~jjasperson. The Internet marketing course I’m taking next semester will give me even more Web experience. I really enjoy working with computers and am convinced I could be a solid asset to the growing environment at Palmetto Technologies.
Through my marketing internship experience, I have learned a great deal about what it takes to succeed in the business world — good communications skills, flexibility, creativity, and an open mind. I am confident I have all the qualities and more to contribute to Palmetto.
The writer of the next example, who seeks a position with a scenic design firm, does a good job of acknowledging that the job she wants requires the ability to be a self-starter, as well as teamwork skills, and she tells how she acquired both those characteristics:
Some art work is solo, while some projects require the collaborative efforts of many hands, I work well independently as well as in teams; my first job was as a self-employed jewelry maker and seller. As a two-sport varsity athlete, I also know what it takes to achieve team goals.
Part 2: Now, let’s think about the transferable skills you’ve attained in the exclusively classroom. Go back to LiveCareer: Transferable Skills, which is adapted from Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates, by Katharine Hansen.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills (Alpha).