Let’s talk about the purpose of a cover letter. It’s to a) explain your intentions in applying for a certain position and b) concisely summarize the skills and experience that make you qualified for the role. But we sometimes see cover letters that have extra sentences like, “In an ever-changing media landscape, it’s important to create properties that can be adapted into multiplatform content that is accessible on a variety of screens. Netflix’s commitment to providing high volumes of on-demand programming on multiple devices has led to the success of its premium content and has made the company an industry leader.” How do these statements fit in to our two main components of a cover letter? They don’t. Making broad generalizations like these is a huge (and very common) cover letter mistake.
There is nothing more annoying than being schooled in your own industry or company when reading a cover letter. If you take this approach, the reader will roll his eyes at your assessment of his company. You also run the risk of being wrong in one of your assertions. You might admire Netflix’s content, and by your standards, it could be a successful company. You may even have a guess as to the strategy that led to its achievements. But you don’t work there. How could you possibly know the complex decisions that were made that contributed to a company’s success or demise? You don’t even know how that company measures “success.” You might love one of its programs and think it’s doing well because all your friends talk about it, but in reality, it may be underperforming with its intended audience. If you’re making incorrect assumptions about the company in your cover letter, a hiring manager will wonder where you got your information and if you even understand what type of job you’re applying for — will you be happy at a company whose mission you’ve completely misjudged? Even if you’ve made an accurate statement, it’s basic information the hiring manager already knows — you’re just stating the obvious and wasting his time. Current employees presumably understand their company function and industry best practices, and they don’t need you to remind them.
This brings us to our next point — sweeping generalizations are a waste of space in your cover letter. The hiring manager wants to hear about YOU, not some tidbit that you could have found on Wikipedia. A cover letter is not the place to go into depth about your knowledge of an industry — save that for the interview. If there’s something specific about the company’s mission or culture that you read about on its website or heard about from a friend that works there, and you can tie it into your background, it’s fine to (briefly!) mention that in a cover letter — that's highlighting your passion and unique perspective. But stay away from more general statements. Spend those precious sentences speaking about your experience and qualifications instead.
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan