TIPS: Cover Letter No-no’s

By Frances ChavesNo no
An excellent cover letter is a chance to shine — but a bad cover letter can tank your chances of making it to the interview. CareerBuilder suggests you think of the cover letter as a written interview. A great cover letter, according to Heather Huhman, is:

  • Concise
  • Focused
  • Customized

Here are some of the most common cover letter problems:

  • Addressed to:
    • A department or title instead of a real person
    • “To Whom it may concern”
    • “Dear Sir” (sexist; Dear Madam isn’t any better)
  • Spelling and grammar errors
  • Doesn’t get to the point soon enough
  • Every sentence starts with “I”
  • Lacks focus
  • Too long
  • Doesn’t set you apart
  • Doesn’t highlight your skills
  • Missing information
  • Wrong tone
  • Too generic
  • Too impersonal
  • Passive voice
  • Ends without a strong statement about your interest in the job
  • Forgets to include way to contact you
  • Not skim-able
  • Doesn’t tell the company how great they are (and why)
  • Doesn’t follow directions

Email no-no’s:

  • Too long (goal is one screen-length)
  • Email subject line is not used as a selling point (“Experienced Salesperson for Executive Sales Position XXX”)
  • Complicated formatting (specialized text, bullets, tables, boldface, formatting) that is not recognized
  • Does not use job-specific keywords
  • Unprofessional email address
  • Unprofessional tone
  • Emoticons, crazy colors
  • Abbreviations
  • Inspirational quotes as part of signature

“Snail-mail” no-no’s:

  • Letter is unsigned
  • Resume not attached
  • Written on cheap copy paper

Include a cover letter even if it’s not requested. It gives you the opportunity to cover things not included in your resume and it’s easier to read than your resume. Use it to pinpoint exactly what you think the recruiter/hiring manager wants to hear from the qualified candidate.
You might also want to provide a link (naturally of course) to your LinkedIn profile.
Another suggestion: if you sent your original cover letter by email, send a copy by snail-mail.  If you submitted by email, then snail-mail a copy.
Your cover letter is the potential employer’s first contact with you. Make sure it reflects your value.

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