Cover letters can be a pain.
You’ve essentially got to write a new one for every position you apply to. They’re less succinct than résumés. And they can turn out fairly badly, if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Still, if you want a shot at the job, you’ve got to get yours right.
Some common errors will raise red flags, but won’t immediately land you in the rejection pile.
Other mistakes, however, will prompt any hiring manager to rip your cover letter to shreds, set the scraps on fire, and throw the ashes out the nearest window.
Well, maybe not. But it will probably get your cover letter tossed with a second thought.
With that being said, here are nine mistakes to avoid at all costs:
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You leave in multiple typos and grammatical errors
Typos are a really easy way to land your application in the “no” pile.
“Your communication skills are perceived according to how well the letter is written,” Executive career coach and founder of Résumé Writers’ Ink Tina Nicolai says. “If a typo or grammatical error is present, the reader may think you were ‘too busy’ or lazy to check your work or don’t care enough about this job to take the application process seriously. Or worse, they’ll think you just don’t know how to spell.”
Never rely on spell check. Ask a friend or family member to look it over before you submit the cover letter to the employer.
You keep things generic
The hiring manager will know if you’re using a “one size fits all” cover letter. And they won’t be impressed. “Customize each cover letter targeting the specified job description,” advises Nicolai. “A master cover letter is fine to use as a template or outline, but always remember to tailor it.”
You adopt a whiny tone
In Business Insider’s previous roundup of ghastly cover letters, one of the applicants complained about the fact that they typically send out cover letters and never hear back.
Clearly, they never stopped to consider that they were the problem.
Cover letters are not a space for you to gripe about your old boss, your old career, or the woes you’ve faced in your job search. Keep things positive and focused on the present.
No one wants to work with a complainer.
You use the wrong name or job title
If you’re applying for job after job and tailoring your cover letter to each one (like you should be!) you may find yourself replacing words, names, and titles — rather than rewriting your cover letter from scratch over and over again — to save time. But be very careful when you do this. If you forget to replace the company name or job title, this will be a huge turn off to the employer you send it to.
You’ve written a door stopper
I’d say most organizations prefer succinct, clear cover letters.
Virtually no hiring manager wants to receive a two-paged, single-spaced monstrosity (although that didn’t stop me from writing one).
Put yourself in the position of the person who’s receiving your cover letter. Would you want to read a stranger’s lengthy rant? I doubt it.
This isn’t a memoir, so keep it short and sweet.
This is pretty obvious — but don’t fib. Ever.
It doesn’t help anyone, and they will find out eventually.
You point out your weaknesses
This is a mistake I’ve made in the past. I think I mentioned certain weaknesses in that terrible cover letter because I thought it’d be a refreshing bit of self-deprecation for a hiring manager.
I was very wrong.
Remember, you’re trying to convince someone to interview you for a job. That’s your ultimate goal. If you randomly warn your hiring manager about your Achilles heel, they won’t thank you — they’ll toss your letter into the rejection pile.
You make weird demands
A few years ago, Business Insider compiled a list of the worst cover letters we’ve ever received.
One presumably well-intentioned applicant was singled out for asking to work “non-working” hours (whatever that means).
Your cover letter is not the place to make weird demands. It’s just supposed to introduce you to the hiring manager. You don’t want to sound like a bad fit right off the bat.
Don’t waste everyone’s time if you can’t fulfill the basic requirements of the job posting.
You focus on the wrong thing
In my disaster of a cover letter, I focused completely on myself and my skills and sounded rather clueless and self-centered in the process. Alternatively, you don’t want to hone in on how swell you think the company is, without any indication of why you’re a good fit.
Never forget the primary purpose of a cover letter. You’re trying to explain how you could provide value to the organization you’re applying to. Any discussion of your past experience or why you like the organization should somehow speak to this.