17 May Cover Letter Mistakes to Avoid

Writing a cover letter is a humbling experience. You’re trying to promote yourself effectively, without making it too long and complicated, all while speculating on what a stranger would like to read.

But don’t be discouraged! The good news is that cover letters should be simple and clear. And the most common cover letter mistakes are easy to avoid. Here are a few of those mistakes, and how you can sidestep them…

Unclear language

It’s tempting to use big words to show how smart you are, but clarity is more important. Everybody (including HR managers!) prefer when documents are easy to read. Keep the language simple and the sentences and paragraphs short. There’s elegance in clear language.

Not focussing on the employer’s needs

Try to remember who’s reading the letter: They have a problem (a job vacancy) and they want it solved. So keep the focus on their point of view – how your skills suit the job spec and why you’re a good fit for the job and company.

Remember: It’s not about how much you want the job, it’s about why they should want you. Use the job ad as a guide, and address as many of the requirements as you can.

Going off topic

On a similar subject, try to keep on topic: So, while you might want to list achievements that you’re proud of, leave them out if you’re pushed for space or if they’re not relevant to the position.

Don’t talk about personal details, why you’re leaving your current job, or (especially) anything that might be there to pad out the letter.

“Dear Sir or Madam”

Have you ever gotten an email that says “greetings, friend!”? A letter that doesn’t address someone by name is very off-putting. And there’s no excuse not to know who’s reading it: Their name is probably in the email address, and if not, find out who’ll be reading the letter by researching the company’s website or even calling reception.

And for goodness sake, don’t write “Dear Sir”. Any female HR manager reading those two words will not be impressed!

Making the letter too long

Finally, a 2011 survey found that 70% of employers prefer their cover letters to be half a page at most. Again, try to think of it from their point of view: Your letter could be one of dozens (or even hundreds) that will be read. And they’ll appreciate it if it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Don’t forget that you’ll also be submitting a CV or resumé, and possibly a portfolio piece. A letter is a just a brief introduction.

A cover letter is nothing to be afraid of. With the right approach and technique, it can work well in establishing the initial rapport with an employer.

Happy hunting!