Cover letter mistakes to avoid in the new year

Just because most jobs applications now are done online doesn’t mean you can ignore cover letters. If you’ve been trying and failing to earn yourself a career in finance over the past months, it may not be due to qualifications – it may be because you’re not selling yourself well enough in your cover letter.

“Although the job application process has increasingly moved online, the importance of a cover letter shouldn’t be underestimated,” said Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam. “It often is the first opportunity to make a positive impression on hiring managers.”

OfficeTeam, in a survey conducted last year, found that 91 percent of all executives consider cover letters valuable when considering job candidates. Additionally, 79 percent added that they tend to receive cover letters alongside the majority of their applications – so if you’re not writing one for each resume you send out, you’re falling behind.

There’s a number of mistakes you can make in your cover letter that can set you behind your peers even before you interview. In the coming year, avoid these errors when you handle your applications. If you become a master of the cover letter, you’ll be working a finance job in no time.

Mistake #1: Mistaking irrelevance for irreverence 
You don’t want to write a boring cover letter – that’s a mistake we’ll get to a little later. However, it’s also important to remember that you can’t get too zany in this document. If you spend your entire word count telling a story that you think is entertaining, but doesn’t pertain at all to the job that you’re applying to, then it’s highly unlikely you’ll find yourself interviewing for that job. Keep your irreverent asides and funny comments to single sentences, if that. You don’t want hiring managers thinking you applied as a lark, because your work experience should suggest otherwise.

Mistake #2: Exaggerating
You also want to avoid exaggerating in your cover letter. It’s understandable that – especially when applying for high-pressure finance careers, like operations jobs or risk management jobs – you want to make yourself out to be the best in your field. Yet literally telling a hiring manager that you’re “the best in your field” does nothing to actually prove your abilities. Instead, focus on using space in your cover letters to detail specific achievements, or explain unique talents you have that could add value to your potential employer’s organization. Bluster can only get you so far.

Mistake #3: Not explaining your “red flags”
A cover letter isn’t an advertisement – it’s an addition to your resume that allows you, in prose, to better make the case that you are worthy of employment. Many people decline to discuss potential gaps in their employment history in their cover letter, for example. Yet this is the perfect place to discuss such “red flags.” If there’s anything in your resume – whether it’s an employment gap, a firing or something else – that may give a future employer pause, you should use your cover letter to dispel their concern. If you were hiring workers for wealth management jobs, for example, you wouldn’t want to interview individuals with a spotty history in the finance market. So if there’s anything spotty about your own resume, use this document to explain it.

Mistake #4: Speaking generally 
You also want to avoid speaking generally in your cover letter. If, for example, you’ve been using the same template for multiple letters sent to different firms, you’re placing yourself at a huge disadvantage. No two jobs are exactly alike – so neither should two cover letters. For each job you apply to, you want to write a specific piece of prose that explains why you’re exactly suited to do the work. If you’re not writing pieces specific to every job, you’ll never seem unique enough to hire.

Mistake #5: Not writing one!
The biggest mistake you could make regarding cover letters, of course, is to not write one at all. As mentioned, the vast majority of executives expect that you’ll send a cover letter along with your resume – and a vast majority of individuals who apply for jobs tend to do so, as well. If you fail to include a cover letter with each job application you send out, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage that you’re very unlikely to overcome.

This is your chance to show your employers the type of person you actually are. Your resume is but a mere faceless listing of accomplishments without the panache added by a cover letter. Employers don’t just want to hire a set of skills – they want to hire a personality. Your cover letter is your one and only chance to show them your personality – and to make it shine – prior to a job interview. Don’t waste it.