Seven Cover Letter Mistakes to Avoid
The student's resume was impressive. The formatting was impeccable, the content was excellent, and he did a great job of focusing on accomplishments instead of job duties. If I were an employer, I would have been impressed.
Then I looked at his cover letter and imagined the employer tossing that perfect resume into the trash bin.
Many college students and recent grads destroy their resumes by accompanying them with halfhearted or downright terrible cover letters. While some employers don't bother reading cover letters, most do. And they will quickly eliminate you if you make these cover letter mistakes:
Using the Wrong Cover Letter Format
The student's cover letter looked more like a cut-and-paste email than a business letter. It had no recipient information, no return address and no date. The letter screamed unprofessional.
Be sure your cover letter uses a standard business-letter format. It should include the date, the recipient's mailing address and your address.
Making It All About You
It may seem counterintuitive, but your cover letter, like your resume, should be about the employer as much as it's about you. Yes, you need to tell the employer about yourself, but do so in the context of the employer's needs and the specified job requirements.
Not Proofing for Typos and Grammatical Errors
Employers tend to view typos and grammatical errors as evidence of your carelessness and inability to write. Proofread every letter you send. Get additional cover letter help by asking a friend who knows good writing double-check your letter for you.
Making Unsupported Claims
Too many cover letters from college students and recent grads say the applicant has "strong written and verbal communication skills." Without evidence, it's an empty boast. Give some examples for each claim you make. Employers need proof.
Writing a Novel
A good cover letter should be no longer than one page. Employers are deluged with resumes and cover letters, and their time is scarce. Make sure your cover letter has three or four concise but convincing paragraphs that are easy to read. If your competitor's letter rambles on for two pages, guess which candidate the employer will prefer.
Using the Same Cover Letter for Every Job and Company
Employers see so many cover letters that it's easy for them to tell when you're using a one-size-fits-all approach. If you haven't addressed their company's specific concerns, they'll conclude you don't care about this particular job.
It's time-consuming but worthwhile to customize each cover letter for the specific job and company.
Not Sending a Real Cover Letter
Some job seekers -- college students, recent grads and even those with years of work experience -- don't bother sending a cover letter with their resume. Others type up a one or two-sentence "here's my resume" cover letter, while others attach handwritten letters or sticky notes.
There is no gray area here: You must include a well-written, neatly formatted cover letter with every resume you send. If you don't, you won't be considered for the job.
Let an expert write you a job-winning resume and cover letter.
How many times have you replied to a job ad via e-mail by shooting them a copy of your resume and cover letter?
Related:7 Features Of Effective E-Cover Letters
I’m going to venture a guess and say at least 20 (but more likely hundreds of times) if you’ve been searching for any significant length of time.
Cover Letter Mistakes
Here are some of the most notorious cover letter mistakes we’ve seen and what you can do to greatly improve your chances of being noticed.
1. Attaching The Cover Letter To The E-mail
What’s wrong with that, you ask? Most hiring managers aren’t going to open the cover letter and read it. They’ll go straight to the resume instead. Want to ensure your cover letter gets read? Copy and paste it into the body of the e-mail. Whoever received the e-mail will be much more likely to read it if it’s already right there in front of their face.
2. Writing Your Whole Life Story In The Body Of The E-mail
Don’t go overboard with details; keep it short. The hiring manager won’t be willing to invest a lot of time reading your e-mail. Keep it short and to the point.
3. Providing Information Not Relevant To The Position
Here is a great example. When I want to bring an additional resume/cover letter writer on staff, I’m not looking for someone with technical writing expertise, article writing skills, or journalism savvy. Those forms of writing aren’t relevant to what we do here. I want a writer who has extensive expertise and certification in resume writing.
If someone goes on and on in their cover letter (or in the body of the e-mail) about all their other writing experience, they will lose my interest. Instead, I want them to tell me about their most relevant experience as it relates to my needs. I want them to tell me about any resume writing experience they have. Give the hiring manager a brief overview of the most relevant experience you have, appropriate to the position they are trying to fill. This will pique their interest—rather than lose it.
4. Excluding Information They’ve Specifically Asked You To Include
Depending on the position, the employer may ask you to submit a sample of your work, portfolio, hours of availability, or even salary requirements. Whatever it is they’ve asked you to include, make sure you include it in your cover letter.
If not, you will most certainly be removed from consideration for failing to follow instructions. Following instructions and acknowledging everything the employer has asked you to address in the job ad not only saves the employer time but makes you look good. I can tell you this from experience because 9 out of 10 applicants will fail to address every stipulation the employer has listed. It happens to us all the time.
5. Not Using A Cover Letter At All
We’ve received e-mails from applicants, and the body of the e-mail provides either little or no information whatsoever. Some simply state, “Here is my resume for your review.” You are selling yourself short by not including at least a brief introduction. Especially if the employer outlines specific requirements. Take the time to write, “I see you need someone with availability to work nights and weekends; I would enjoy working these hours and am available to do so.” Or, “I have included a sample of my work for your consideration along with my resume. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.”
6. Forgetting To Tell Them Why You’re The Best Fit
Let me tell you about one of THE BEST cover letters I’ve ever seen: I could tell this person put effort into it—and she took the time to specifically and meticulously review our job requirements. She scrutinized our requirements and detailed in her cover letter how she had experience meeting those needs. It was applicable, relevant, and attention getting. It was probably one of the only cover letters that actually made us want to read the corresponding resume.
7. Using A Boring Closing Statement
Instead of using the same old boring line, spice it up a bit. One of the more daring cover letter closings I have read closed with, “Call today, don’t delay.” I applauded her boldness and had to call her. The closing was confident, feisty, and it certainly grabbed my attention. Not to mention the entire cover letter addressed everything she brought to the table as a potential employee and how these elements were relevant to meeting our needs.
What I am trying to get you to see is boring the hiring manager with details not relevant to the opening—or not making the most of the space and time you’re getting is really to your detriment. Instead, take the time to write something catchy, relevant, and targeted to the position for which you are applying.
Sure, it may take a few extra minutes to tweak your cover letter—but in the end, if you get the interview, won’t it be worth it?
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