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As I peruse some of the higher education related facebook communities I’m apart of, I’m noticing a common theme: the struggle to get to the next step of the job application process. You think you’re putting your best foot forward on all of those job applications but for one reason or another, you either don’t make it to the next step or you get that dreaded rejection email. A lot of the times this can be attributed to the simple fact that there are too many applicants and not enough available positions. This has nothing to do with you and it is something you, unfortunately, have no control over. However, there are other times that you may be falling victim to common mistakes that are keeping you from standing out as the best applicant.
Your cover letter needs work
The best part about being on search committees is getting to read the cover letters because they can function as a great pre-interview. The cover letter is where I, as the hiring official, get to know a little bit about who you are and whether or not you’d be a good fit in our office culture. If your cover letter is less than desirable, you could have all of the qualifications in the world and still not get hired. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:
Your cover letter is generic
Do not, under any circumstance, submit the exact same cover letter for every single job you’re applying to. I cannot emphasize this enough. It is incredibly noticeable because chances are, you did not mention the specific job you are applying to and the skills you talk about having do not relate – or relate very little – to the skills the employer is looking for. On all of the search committees I have been on, we actually take points off during the application review process for having a generic cover letter. It makes you look lazy and uncaring because you did not take the time to do your research on the institution you’re applying to in order to describe why you would be a good fit for them and their mission/values/goals specifically.
You copied and pasted bullet points from your resume
Not much to say about this except don’t do it. The cover letter is your chance to elaborate on your experiences listed in brief on your resume. Your cover letter should never be a duplicate of your resume, otherwise no one would ask for a cover letter. I’m also a firm believer in having only full sentences in a cover letter, i.e. no bullet points.
Your cover letter is poorly written
You should always have someone (or something, like Grammarly) review your cover letter and check for grammar and spelling mistakes and the overall tone or voice of your writing. Being able to write well is highly sought after in most jobs but especially in higher education since you’ll be expected to model good behavior for your students. Your ability to write well is also a good indicator of whether or not you are able to communicate well in general. Thus, if you struggle with your writing or are not particularly confident in it, now is the time to work on that in addition to having another set of eyes look at your letter before submitting it. Lastly, you’ll want someone to read your letter for tone specifically because, as mentioned before, it can function as your pre-interview. Therefore, you’ll want to avoid sounding cocky or arrogant or, on the flipside, underconfident.
You missed an opportunity
Sometimes, a job comes along that you really want and you know that you’d be great at it. However, you’re worried because your resume may not be the strongest – your experiences are not overtly relevant to the position. You wish you could explain how exactly the experiences you do have make you the perfect candidate. Well, there is: your cover letter. This is your prime opportunity to relate your experiences, skills and knowledge to this position and convince the search committee to give you an interview, even though your experiences are not directly linked to the job requirements. Writing a cover letter that’s generic or copying and pasting bullet points from your resume can make you miss this valuable opportunity.
The cover letter is only one piece of the puzzle – a piece that I can help you with. I offer cover letter reviews and a cover letter workbook to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward. I offer honest feedback with concrete steps to take to improve your letter. Interested?