You don’t get a second chance to make a great first impression and when it comes to applying for a job your cover letter is usually the first thing most employers will see. This is your chance to say “Hi, I’m here and you should really hire me” and any error will be the written equivalent of tripping over as you enter the room or spilling tea all over the boss.
It says everything about you right from the start – and that could be the bad as well as the good. It’s true that we can learn from our mistakes, but you really don’t want the application for the job of your dreams being the place to make them, do you? So ensure you don’t make them in the first place and enhance your chances of being invited for an interview by making sure your initial application stage is spot on!
Here are some of the most common – yet avoidable – cover letter mistakes that you need to guarantee you don’t make when applying for your dream job:
1) Getting the basics wrong:
You’ve sent off an application for the job you’ve been waiting for all your life, and just as you press SEND! you realise you’ve spelt the name of the hiring manager wrong. Well it’s too late to do anything about it then, and you probably won’t be hearing from that company again in all honesty.
If you can’t be bothered to proofread your own cover letter, what does that tell a company about the kind of employee you’ll be? It’s so important to make sure all your basic details are correct and you’ve taken the time to ensure information is correct – and that doesn’t just mean running a spell check.
Check and check again to make sure ALL of the details are correct and there are NO spelling or grammatical errors before you submit your cover letter.
2) Being too formal:
There’s no shame in being enthusiastic about a job you want. So why should you feel you have to bottle up that enthusiasm when you are telling a prospective employer how much you want to work for them?
Experience and qualifications are one thing, but at this stage it’s all about getting the attention of the person who is hiring – so don’t go too heavy on the technical speak (your CV will show what you have done before) and just explain why you want the job and why you think you’re the best person for the position in the same way that you would if you were talking to someone personally.
3) Not writing enough:
The secret to a great cover letter is getting the balance just right. Too long and you will lose the attention of the person writing it (they might receive hundreds of letters for just one job), too short and it won’t say enough about you to really catch their eye. Aim for around 200-250 words maximum and pick out some of the key reasons you feel you are the ideal candidate for the job, trying to focus on one major success story you are particularly proud of. “I successfully increased revenue by 200% during my time at the company”, for example.
If your letter is good enough then you’ll have the opportunity to tell them more about yourself at the interview stage.
4) Using generic text (To Whom It May Concern):
Whatever you do never use these five little words to address a cover letter. And come to think of it, Dear Sir/Madam isn’t much better either.
Do whatever you can to find out the hiring manager’s name, and address your letter to that person directly. Anything else will make you appear lazy and less than bothered if you get the job anyway.
Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask who it is that’s hiring for this position. You might get passed from pillar to post initially but remember, it’s a real person you are trying to impress here and little details like this can make a huge difference.
5) Not selling yourself enough:
One of the most common mistakes applicants make when writing a covering letter is to simply repeat what is already on your CV.
What’s the point of that?
Don’t hold back when it comes to telling your potential employer why it is you want to work for them, what it is you like about the company, as well as changes you would make that might improve the business. Also, mention awards and achievements that might enhance your chances of securing an interview at the very least. This is your chance to really shout from the rooftops about what you can offer this company – so don’t sell yourself short.
Author: Having been a journalist for over 10 years, Matthew Crist works for Glomacs – experts in leadership training seminars.