When companies put out a new job position, they can receive hundreds (sometimes thousands) of resumes. This means that a hiring manager needs to find a way to filter out weaker candidates and trim down the stack of applications.
In many instances, employers reviewing applications will ignore cover letters altogether (especially for positions that don’t require a high level of written or verbal skills), but as an applicant, you have no way of knowing how much the person reviewing your application will care about your Cover Letter.
Unless the job you’re applying for indicates that no Cover Letter is required, it’s best to have your bases covered and submit one—it might be the thing that bumps you ahead of other equally qualified applicants for an interview.
To give you an advantage over other applicants, we’ll discuss the six most common mistakes people make in cover letters that can cause employers to disqualify candidates.
1. Typos and Other Errors in Your Application
Typos and other grammatical errors may not seem like much of a problem, but they continue to be one of the top Resume and Cover Letter mistakes employers use to disqualify candidates and cut down the stack of resumes they’re reviewing.
The easiest way to avoid grammatical errors is to have someone else look over your work after your own self-editing efforts.
You should also double-check:
- That your contact information is correct (e.g. you included your preferred email address and spelled it correctly and you didn’t make any mistakes in your phone number)
- You’re addressing the proper person in the right department and company (when people are sending out multiple applications, it can be quite simple to mix up which company you’re contacting)
- You have the correct version of your Resume and Cover Letter sent to the proper job posting (many people accidentally send an application tailored to a specific position to the wrong posting)
2. Focusing Too Much on Yourself in Your Cover Letter
When an employer puts out a call for resumes, what’s really happening is they have a problem that needs solving. The problem, in this case, is that there’s a hole in their ranks that they need filled to keep the company running smoothly.
The point of a Cover Letter is to demonstrate to an employer how you are the answer to that problem. It can be tempting to spend the whole time talking about how great you are as a worker, multi-tasker, and team player, but you need to make sure you’re always relating back to the company. What can you do for them? How does your previous experience speak to your ability to deliver on the promise to solve all of their problems? These are the things you need to focus on.
3. Discussing Your Entire Work History
Odds are you’ve had dozens of jobs—probably since you were a teenager—but that doesn’t mean all of that work experience is necessary in your Cover Letter. Sure, it’s great that you got a steady job flipping burgers at McDonald’s when you were 14, but it’s probably not terribly relevant when you’re applying to be a Financial Analyst at AT&T.
Discuss your related training and be sure to illustrate how those experiences show you can tackle any challenges you may face in this new position.
4. Discussing Too Little Work History
Although disclosing too much job history is problematic because it can dilute your relevant work experience, the opposite (i.e. not discussing enough of your work history) can also be an issue.
Many people make the mistake of simply repeating their Resume in their Cover Letter, but that doesn’t provide the hiring manager with any other details about your skills—they’ve already looked over your Resume, they don’t need to see it twice. An employer will want to see your accomplishments from previous jobs and they’ll want to know how they relate to the position you’re applying for now.
5. Clichés in Your Cover Letter
As we’ve already mentioned, someone sifting through applications is probably glazing over hundreds of resumes and cover letters. The last thing you want to do is sound like everyone else. Everyone believes they are “the perfect candidate for this position” because they are a “team player” with “exceptional customer service skills” who “takes pride in their work.”
Although it’s important to use some of these buzzwords (especially if an employer is using an electronic system to sort resumes), you need to make sure you don’t just blend into the herd.
If you really want to make your Cover Letter stand out, be sure to include some concrete examples of your accomplishments (i.e. facts and figures). Something like “In my last position, I was an expert salesman” is fine, but “I had the top sales average on my team, which amounted to $10,000 per month in revenue for the company” is better.
6. Being the Company’s “Super Fan”
Applying for jobs can be a stressful experience—especially in turbulent economic climates—and it often results in people applying for and accepting positions they don’t want at companies they don’t know, want to work for, or care about.
A common tactic people use in situations like this is pretending to be the company’s biggest fan, so their cover letter reads more like fan mail than a professional summary of skills. The end product comes off as very disingenuous.
Put yourself in the hiring person’s shoes. If you read that type of Cover Letter, would you fall for the ploy? What would you rather read about? It’s likely that writing about what you can do for the company (how your experience and expertise can solve their problems) will resonate better than random praise.
You can tailor your letter so it aligns with the company’s values and culture to show you’ve done your research, but you don’t need to pump up their ego.
Crafting the Strongest Cover Letter
Although cover letters don’t carry the weight they used to in the hiring process, you don’t want to waste anyone’s time by submitting a poor one. You need to give yourself any advantage you can in a competitive job market, and you only have about half a page to prove to a hiring manager that you’re worth pursuing as a contender for the open job position. By avoiding these six common mistakes, you can get ahead of the competition.
Be clear about your skills, provide concrete examples, and convince the reader that you are the answer to their problem.
What do you do to ensure your Cover Letter stands out? Let us know in the comments!