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Cover Letters: The 13 Biggest Mistakes to Avoid

Confusion over cover letter style is rampant because survey after survey clearly shows that no one style stands out as the “best” or “most effective” to use. Unfortunately, most job hunters worry about the style of their letters when they should be focusing on the content. The majority of cover letters have at least one or more of the “13 biggest mistakes to avoid.”

  1. Lack of focus to a particular position or function - Cover letters must be tailored for each position and each company. A cover letter that is all things to all people won’t score the points you want to make.

  2. Rehashing what’s on the resume - Cover letters should compliment your resume, not be resume-redundant. One concept to keep in mind is that the resume must give potential employers the facts; the cover letter must give them the person.

  3. Not spending enough time on the cover letter - Job seekers tend to lavish attention to resumes while treating cover letters as a nuisance to be done quickly. Remember, many companies use cover letters as a writing sample.

  4. Getting too cute or clever - A cover letter should be a professional exchange, not an intimate tour through the writer’s psyche. Write potential employers the kind of letters you would like to receive, letters that clearly make their point. Treat cleverness with caution and professionally address the reader as you would any intelligent adult.

  5. Informal salutation - You should address people, especially those you don't know, by their last names. Job seekers who fail to use proper etiquette are labeled as unconventional from the outset.

  6. Not addressing your letter to a specific individual - If you want to stand out from the herd, send your letter to a specific person. After looking through scores of letters addressed to "Dear Hiring Executive" or "Good Morning", the interviewer will take notice when his or her name is mentioned.

  7. Not knowing anything about the company - Do research. Know about the company to which you're applying. There's no harm if your letter tactfully reveals that you're acquainted with the company or know someone who works there.

  8. Request for salary history - To avoid the salary history trap, don't include it, even when requested. But don't ignore the request, either; it could be viewed as a failure to comply with one of the company’s first requests. A better approach is to explain that your "salary requests" are open and flexible, and that you look forward to discussing compensation after you have a better idea of the position’s responsibilities.

  9. Not personalizing your classified ad letter - When answering want ads, address each one using exact words from the ad that closely matches your abilities to the company's stated needs.

  10. Attention-getting devices - Don't bold, underline, or italicize anything for emphasis not consistent with good English grammar. Many job seekers do this to draw attention to certain key points. The only two permissible ways to emphasize key points in cover letters are the use of quotation marks or bullets.

  11. Typos - Cover letters must be perfect. Some hiring professionals won’t even look at your resume if your cover letter has some typos. Your cover letter should show the quality of your work, your attention to detail, and the results you expect from yourself and others. Therefore, your cover letter must be perfect, nothing less. Pay close attention to grammar, punctuation, and spelling. In this age of technology, there is no excuse for typos.

  12. Overuse of the personal pronoun “I" - Use "I" sparingly. Your name is across the top of the cover letter and you signed the letter on the bottom; they already know whom the letter is from. Think about how boring and impolite it is when people constantly talk about themselves and never ask you how you’re doing. The same holds true for cover letters.

  13. Indulging in mini-lecture leads - Leads such as "You may not realize it, but..." or "The world’s economy..." or "In today's competitive business world…" or "Never has managing costs been so important..." have the potential of talking down to the reader.

- Joe Hodowanes, Career Strategy Advisor
J.M. Wanes & Associates
www.jmwanes.com