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Nine cover letter mistakes

Updated on September 30, 2014

Cover letter killers

Your cover letter is the first contact you will have with an organization you want to work with, so it's crucial that you be sure you don't make any of these cover letter mistakes which can kill your chances to be called in for an interview.

Cover letter mistake #1 - "To whom it may concern"

If you have a precise contact name, you will be personalizing your letter. This will get the reader's attention. Be sure you also have spelled that person's name correctly. Do some detective work if you have to. Check company websites, or even call. You'd be surprised. John Smith could be John Smythe. I have received applications with my name misspelled, and I have a funny sounding ethnic last name. If someone isn't interested enough to spell my name correctly, I'm going to assume they don't want the job.

Cover letter mistake #2 "Look how clever I am"

The cover letter is not the place to demonstrate your witty banter style or verbal one-upmanship skills. If you are applying for a writing job, then your portfolio will speak volumes, right? Clever and witty does not always sell as well as enthusiastic and motivated. Save your comedic talents for the comedy clubs. In a cover letter they can be a major turn off.

Cover letter mistake #3 Reciting your resume

Your letter should convey an energy and attitude that your resume can't. Here is your chance to say something that is more tailored to the reader's needs. He/she can read your resume and get the picture of what your hard skills are, so you do not need to restate them in the letter. Instead, you can convey your relevant accomplishments, your enthusiasm, and passion in your cover letter. Convey your brand or your value-add to the reader rather than a boring laundry list that is paraphrased from your resume. So, what is your unique selling feature? What is your most salient accomplishment? Why should the employer talk you? Why do you want to work there? Don't hold back. Don't sound like all the other cookie cutter cover letters out there. And do not recite your resume.

Cover letter mistake #5, the IM cover letter

You figure since everyone texts, or IMs, that you can be brief, that all the reader has to do is read about wonderful you in your resume, so why waste your time crafting a great cover letter? Well think again. The cover letter is not a transmittal, and not a text message. The days of "just read it in my resume" are gone.

You have to work hard to keep your reader engaged. You need to sell, and writing a couple of lines won't do it. I fight my students on this one constantly. There is a difference between being brief and being concise. Some people short-change themselves by not saying enough. Remember, this your first opportunity to impress your potential employer, so you need to make a good first impression..

Cover letter mistake #4 Everything but the kitchen sink

This letter rambles, is wordy and wants to convey copious detail to the reader, as if leaving anything off would cost the job. Remember this: In front of your reader is a stack several inches thick. He/she is human, overloaded and has already read dozens of badly worded letters.You want to make his or her day by being original, exciting and different than the others. Also, anyone who has to face a pile of long grey paragraphs on a printed page will glaze over quickly and put you in the discard pile before they doze off. Be selective. Be concise. Be relevant. Don't tell your life story. If you bog the employer down in too many details and type, he/she will stop reading after 2 seconds

Cover letter mistake #6-"Me, me, me"

You're looking for a great job, with great pay, and great benefits, and great opportunities, aren't you? Of course you are, but going on and on about that in your cover letter will not win you the job, and not even an interview. Newsflash! It's not about you. It's about the employer. It's about what you have to offer them to solve their problems, increase their bottom line, improve their processes, and in short, save them time or money or both. Self-centered letters are a major turn off. Watch out for too many I's or we's. Focus on "you", the reader, the employer and how you can add value to the company.

Cover letter mistake #8 "I want your job"

There's a huge difference between conveying your accomplishments and the grandiosity that presents an exaggerated version of yourself. So don't say your goals are to get the manager's job or to take over the company.Major turn off! Instead, stick with what you can contribute. .


Cover letter mistake #7 The sloppy cover letter

One day I watched my chiropractor's office manager sort through 300 resumes that came in from Craigslist for a receptionist job. She showed me how she was eliminating ones from people who made typos, language errors, and in short, people who couldn't string together a sentence in their cover letters. "What kind of impression is that person going to make with the public," she asked? Writing errors including spelling, grammar, wording, and even punctuation mistakes call into question your professionalism. Do yourself a favour. Run a spell check. Get a second pair of eyes to check your letter. You wont regret it.

Cover letter mistake #9 "If it's not too much trouble"

This person is meek as a mouse and self effacing to a fault. Somebody once told this person that promoting him/herself was not a good thing, that it was rude. The cover letter is not the place to tell the employer what you can't do, or how if "it's not too much trouble", you could be a file clerk or something or that yo made a lot of mistakes at your last job. Trust me, we all make them. Get over it. Tell them what you CAN do, what it is you have to offer.

Selling is not a dirty word

The cover letter is the place to shine, a place to sell. Many career experts are now offering advice that is similar to copy writing techniques (promotional writing), because yes, it is that competitive out there, and employers can pick and choose who they want. Do give your reader a reason to toss your application.

Cover letter format

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