7 common cover letter mistakes and how to avoid them
Cover letters are an important part of most job applications so make sure you get it right. You need to sell yourself in a succinct manner and grab the reader’s attention so they want to look at your CV. So what should you include and what should you avoid when writing your letter?
1) Using the same cover letter for every job application
Using this approach is evident from the moment the reader looks at it and nothing will turn them off reading it more. They want someone who is genuinely interested in the company and the role.
It is vital that you don’t churn out the same letter for each role you apply for e.g. just changing the name of the company. You must spend time researching the company – what they do, competitors, recent news, values, future plans etc. Then demonstrate a passion for working for them.
Match your skills and experience to those being sought by the company – go through the job description/person specification and highlight what they are looking for. Choose three key skills for your letter, illustrating how you match them in terms of your skills, experience and achievements. Do not copy and paste sections from your CV but write in a succinct manner – bullet points work well for this section of the letter.
The objective is to entice the recruiter to read on and look at your CV.
2) Writing an overly long or too brief letter
Too brief and it shows a lack of interest/effort; too long and it probably won’t get read!
Keep your letter to between half a page and a page.
Spend time on presentation and format. You can create a document similar to personalised stationery e.g. name/address as header; phone/email details as footer. Ensure the letter is nicely spaced and use a font such as Arial, Times New Roman or Calibri – matched to what you have used for your CV.
Include the date. contact name and address of where you are applying to. If the name of the recruiter is not on the job ad or your letter is speculative, really try to find out the name of the appropriate person to send your letter and CV to. Many recruiters will not carry on reading if the letter is addressed to Dear Sir/Madam or To Whom it may concern – sounds harsh, but it is a competitive world out there! If you really cannot find the name, remember to end your letter with Yours faithfully rather than Yours sincerely. If you do have a name, spell it correctly.
3) Writing about what you are going to get out of the job
Your application is not about what you want, but how you can solve a problem for the employer. Focus on the key skills and experience you have that they are looking for, ensuring you refer back to the job ad/description and person specification. Back these up with figures/examples but not the same ones included on your CV and be succinct.
4) Being informal
This is particularly an issue when writing a cover email rather than a letter. Either is acceptable and if not stated in the job advert, it is your choice. You can copy your letter into the body of the email and attach the CV, attach CV and letter to an email or copy your letter into an email and attach both documents (remember to attach the files!).
Whichever option you choose, keep it professional – do not start out with “Hi”, use text speak or abbreviations, or add emojis 😊.
If emailing, rather than uploading the documents to a website for example, ensure your email is appropriate (not something like firstname.lastname@example.org), professional and not your current work address– you could set up an email purely for your job search.
Always check out the company prior to sending your CV with personal details on – keep ID fraud in mind.
5) Being boring
A cover letter gives you more freedom to show more of your personality than a CV – making your letter stand out from the crowd is a good thing, but don’t go over the top.
6) Being desperate
Don’t be overly friendly, keep it professional and ensure you sound enthusiastic, without begging for a role e.g. I really need this role because…. You can sound enthusiastic without going overboard e.g. “I am a big fan of xxx company, having seen your success in introducing xxx product into the market.”
Last on the list, but very important – spelling and grammatical errors.
Do not rely on spellcheck. Proofread, proofread again after a night’s sleep, ask a few people to read through your CV, then read it again.
You don’t want to end up saying you are seeking a party-time role or are currently a senior manger.
Now you can identify some of the typical errors and know how to avoid them. Spending time on your letter is as important as the time you spend writing your CV. Remember, a well written letter will ensure you stand out from the crowd and it will open doors for you.