Read This Before You Copy and Paste Another Cover Letter

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When it comes to applying for a job, your cover letter is the gateway in terms of getting a hiring manager intrigued enough to click on your resume. However, that gateway is often filled with a ton of roadblocks...caused by you.

What's in a name? You know how much you hate it when Starbucks baristas misspell your name? Not surprisingly, so do the people who are reading your cover letters. Take the time to make sure that HR contact's name is spelled McCarthy--not MacCarthy. Is it Mr. Alex Meyer or Ms. Alex Meyer? Type their name into LinkedIn and make sure to get it right. I've been called Mr. Jacinto or addressed as simply "Dear Jacinto" more times then I care to remember.

Also, if it's a job@company.com email address, go the extra step to determine who the actual hiring manager is and address it to them. Forget about using "to whom it may concern." It concerns Mary Adler, Hiring Manager from Accosta Accounting. She'll appreciate the research.

Keep it personal. The jig is up. Your cover is blown. Stop copy-pasting your cover letter. Hiring managers see right through this lazy attempt at career searching. Your defense that the companies are all alike? Well, that might be the case, but your job as an applicant is to highlight why each and every company you apply to is "the one." That means making it as personalized as possible.

Research who you're emailing. Study their career and mention it in the letter, if applicable. For instance, "I read your recent article, admire your career, loved the product launch you worked on." Everyone likes hearing a little bit of praise. Whatever you do, avoid this major mistake made by a candidate who had no idea what I did for a living.

Connect the Dots: If your resume is your career map, then your cover letter is the key. This is your space to tell your story and help HR understand your career. Do you want to make the move from PR professional to journalist? This is the space to explain that. No need to rehash your resume. Instead, focus on a strategic career story that will align you with the job in question.

Fight the urge to ramble: It starts out as an extra sentence or two, but when you're done you've created a short story instead of a cover letter. Save some mystery for the interview. The person reading this cover letter is busy--and chances are, so are you. Don't waste your time or anyone else's writing a cover letter that's too long.

If you need a format, stick to three paragraphs. I've seen a bit longer and a tad shorter, but it all comes back to the quality of the words. No need to start off with, "My name is ______." Chances are they'll be able to tell that from your email address and signature. And if you aren't a recent graduate, there's no need to highlight the school you attended, either.

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