The cover letter: potentially one of the most befuddling parts of the job application process. Not because is it especially hard to write, but 9 out of 10 folks on the job hunt have no idea what the cover letter is really supposed to accomplish.

That leads a lot of people to make a lot of big mistakes when writing their cover letters. So why is that a big deal? Well, just think for a minute about what a cover letter is really supposed to do. Really think about it. Here’s a hint: What is the first thing a potential employer sees when your application crosses his or her desk?

A cover letter is your ticket to making an incredible first impression on an employer. (And as a bonus for you as a veteran, a cover letter gives you the chance to talk a little more about your experience in plain English. Play your cards right and you can really stand out from the crowd.)

So let’s talk mistakes. Even if you already have pretty good cover letter writing abilities, it’s a sure bet that there are still a few tweaks that you can make to transform the letters you’re writing from run-of-the-mill to something strong, attention-grabbing, and, most importantly, something that will make you very memorable.

That’s important when you’re competing with the hundred other applications that might have crossed a hiring manager’s desk that week. So here’s a quick look at some of the bigger mistakes you can make, and what’s more, let’s talk about how you can avoid making them.

  1. Don’t be a carbon copy: Who are you, really? It can be easy to slip into using the same old clichés as everybody else. But if you’re saying you’re a great candidate because you’re a hard worker or because you have incredible time management skills, you’re delivering a message the person reading your cover letter has heard a thousand times. Trim the fat, and write about what actually makes you different.
  2. Don’t send out carbon copies: Cover letters aren’t Christmas cards, and you shouldn’t be sending out the same thing to ever employer on your mailing list. Each cover letter that you send out should be written specifically for that employer and that position you want. It will take a little more time, but showing that you know the company, and what’s more, that you know what you can offer that company, will help your application stand out in the stack.
  3. Showcase your personality: This one can be tough for vets. Correspondence in the military has a certain formality that often makes its way into correspondence in the civilian world, including cover letters. While you shouldn’t start filling your cover letters with smiley faces, hearts, and text speak, (really, please don’t) you do want to show a potential employer that you have a great personality.
  4. Don’t tell them what they already know: You shouldn’t use your cover letter to reiterate what’s already on your resume. It’s bland, it’s boring, it shows that you really didn’t put much thought into what you were going to say with your cover letter. For vets in particular, your cover letter gives you a great opportunity to go beyond the formal descriptions and to tell potential employers what you can really do.

But most importantly, the one thing you really need to know to excel at writing cover letters is that it’s always best to just communicate honestly about what you think you can bring to the table, and how a company could benefit from hiring you. Not only will that ensure that you get a job, it will ensure you get the perfect job for your talents, abilities, and personality.

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