As you step onto the job market and start searching for work, suitable open positions may be difficult to find. Worse yet, wrangling interview invitations may take some serious effort and research. But advice, specifically cover letter advice, will surround you from all sides.
Advice is free. And because it's free, it's a good idea to measure the value and the source before taking "rules" to heart. Here are a few signature signs that can help you separate wise advice from generic clichés.
Good Cover Letter Advice
Follow cover letter advice if:
1. It takes your specific position level into account. What works for an entry-level resume can actually cause problems for a job seeker at the mid-career level. For example, entry-level cover letters can—and should—emphasize your potential. At this point, you don't have much experience to speak of, but you do have ambition, plans, goals, passion, and excellent grades (ideally). At the mid-level, these traits should fade into the background and the spotlight should shift to your accomplishments, relevant previous positions, and measurable track record of results.
2. It takes your industry into account. Listen carefully to advice givers—both online and in the real world—who have specific experience in your field. If you're lucky enough to get some guidance from an experienced hiring manager (or former hiring manager) in your industry, tune in and take notes.
3. It comes from someone who has what you want. If your friend or roommate lands what you would consider a dream job, sit down with her, review her letter, and ask her about her strategy.
Bad Cover Letter Advice
Think twice about cover letter advice and guidelines if:
1. It confuses "honest and straightforward" with "unprofessional." Yes, your personality should show through in your cover letter. And yes, you should strive to drop the clichés and be clear with employers about who you are and what you want. But you can be warm while remaining formal, professional, and serious. No jokes, no sarcasm, and no comments that undermine yourself or your accomplishments.
2. It's outdated. Professional, winning cover letters don't look the way they did 30 years ago. Neither do outstanding resumes. Make sure your advice applies to the modern job market. (Hint: never start a cover letter with the greeting "Dear Sir".)
3. It applies to the speaker or advice giver, but not to you. Success is a funny thing. No matter what you might consider a "successful career", don't be misled: this term has a very different definition in the mind of every other person around you. If you think we all share the same vision of what this means, think again.
Keep an Open Mind
The take home message: stay flexible. If your cover letter or general job-search strategies aren't working, then something needs to change. Stay open to input, take guidelines with a grain of salt, and remember that your job search, your needs, your personality, and your set of talents are all unique. Start with MyPerfectResume's cover letter builder, and create an application from the ground up that represents you…and no one else.