5 KILLER Cover Letter Mistakes Print E-mail
by Alesia Benedict, CPRW, JCTC

With so many opportunities to use electronic postings and Internet job sites, you may wonder if it is still necessary to have a cover letter as part of your job search. The answer is definitely “yes”! Review your experience with postings, or simply do a bit of research online and you will find that most sites provide an option for a “cover letter” in an email accompanying the uploaded resume. This is your opportunity to blend old and new approaches to maximize your impact on the hiring manager. Avoid the following unprofessional mistakes and you will be using the cover letter as an effective tool to create a positive impression and get an interview.
1) Leaving Out Accomplishments
Accomplishments in the resume aren’t just for impressing the reader in the resume. If you don’t include achievements in the cover letter you are missing an opportunity to grab the reader’s attention. A well-written cover letter functions in the same way as a movie trailer, enticing the reader to learn more about you.
Be certain to “cover all the bases” by listing accomplishments in both the resume and cover letter. Create a “one-two punch” with an effective cover letter and powerful resume. Each hiring manager is different – some scan the resume first, while others use the cover letter as a quick screening mechanism. Because of the latter, you want to include accomplishments in the cover letter as well as the resume. Select those accomplishments most likely to get the reader’s attention and engage him/her to read more in your resume. You may consider tailoring the accomplishments you include in each cover letter to the specific position for which you are applying. Matching your accomplishments to the needs of the position will strengthen that all-important first impression.
Additionally, leave accomplishments the same, action-oriented language used in your resume for optimal impact. For example: “Captured 200 additional clients 1st quarter in position.”
2) Errors in Grammar
Talking about yourself in the third person doesn’t create the formal impact you may be hoping to achieve. “This candidate” or “Mr./Ms. Smith” simply sounds odd, and may give the impression that your interpersonal skills are sub-par. It is appropriate to use “I” in the cover letter when describing general traits or transferable skills you want to highlight.
3) Too Personal
As noted, it is perfectly appropriate to use “I” in the cover letter, but don’t give yourself permission to lapse into an informal style of writing that feels “too personal” or “too close”. “I work hard and play hard” may seem like a harmless way to convey passion and dedication; however, such a statement is likely to be interpreted as awkward and perhaps socially inept. A more positive example could include: “Dedicated team player with keen ability to de-fuse conflict and create cohesive work groups.”
4) Not Doing Your Homework
If you have done your homework about the company where you intend to apply, then broadcast that research in the cover letter by tailoring your accomplishments specifically to the mission of the company. Many companies have a directive to be environmentally conscious, so you would definitely want to include any LEED certifications or experience. Extending personal recycling efforts to the workplace may represent transferable “green” skills, such as when you initiated recycling stations throughout the organization.
5) Too Generic
Using “Dear Sir/Madam” is a good approach if you are unable to find the name of a specific contact person. It is better not to use the person’s name if you are uncertain about correct spelling or even gender. Many names may be appropriate for either men or women. A deadly faux pas is to address the cover letter to “Ms. Lee Smith” when it is actually “Mr. Lee Smith”. Even if the hiring manager is forgiving of the gender confusion in the salutation, another assumption may be made as well – you do not attend to details by letting a “typo” slip through. You want to avoid either of these negative impressions, and “Dear Sir/Madam” can help you bypass a potential obstacle.
Don’t Let Unprofessional Mistakes Sabotage your First Impression
Taking the necessary time to craft your cover letter and avoid these common errors will launch your resume to the top of the hiring manager’s “must-read list”. Thinking of the cover letter as a preview of coming events, with the resume being the feature, may help you align the two documents in a complementary package. By avoiding unprofessional mistakes, your cover letter can serve an important function in getting your resume read.