Bad news for anyone who ever applies to work for me: I still read cover letters. (Ugh, I know right, I’m such a dinosaur.)
In fact, it’s the first part of an application that I look at because it’s the fastest way to see if you put any effort into applying for this specific position. There are a few things I can figure out within seconds that’ll determine if you’re getting interviewed—or if you’re getting kicked into the no pile.
However, even when people take the effort to nail this part of the process, it can still backfire. And that stinks because writing a customized cover letter takes a lot of energy, and if you’re taking the time to do that, you deserve to get an interview.
So, what are the things you’re so close to doing right—but missing the mark on? Let me tell you!
1. You Addressed it to Me, But Spelled My Name Wrong
Nothing gets me more excited to dig in than seeing you address me by my name and not by “Hiring Manager” or “To Whom it May Concern.” However, nothing makes me pause faster than seeing my name spelled incorrectly. Trust me, I know, it’s tricky. This isn’t the way Jenni’s typically spelled. I also know Maier has one too many vowels in a row. Nevertheless, my name’s all over the internet (and by that I mean our company team page and LinkedIn), so it’s pretty easy to look up.
I’m not saying this because I’m an egomaniac, but because those small, tiny details make a surprisingly big impression. If you can’t get this basic task right, how can I trust you to handle more complicated matters? And yes, I’m going on the assumption that every job you apply to will be more involved than spelling names correctly.
Seriously, it’s well worth double checking the spelling of a name before you hit send. And while you’re at it, do the same for every single word you typed. Especially the company’s name. (Yes, really, you’d be amazed.)
2. You Started With an Interesting Opening Line, But It’s Completely Unrelated to Anything
Most cover letters kick off by stating the obvious: “My name is [X] and I’m applying for the [open position] at [the company].” To which I usually respond, “Duh.” So it’s always a treat when a candidate starts with a fun fact, a memorable anecdote, or a clever line. By doing this, you immediately have my attention.
With that said, that fun fact, memorable anecdote, or clever line better connect with your relevant qualifications, the position you’re applying for, or at the very least, the industry in general. Writing “The first thing you should know about me is that I have a Full House tribute tattoo” will keep me reading, but at the end my question won’t be, “How fast can I get this person into interview?” but rather, “Where is this tattoo?” “Did both Olsens make the cut?” and “Why am I being forced to think about Bob Saget right now?”
If coming up with crafty transitions isn’t your thing—and that’s OK!—cut yourself a break from all the brainstorming and instead use one of these awesome cover letter openings. (Or, go above and beyond and consult with a cover letter expert to help you perfect yours.)
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3. You Talked a Lot About the Company, But You Forgot to Talk About Yourself
So, you love the company you’re applying to work for and you want to make sure the hiring manager understands that. Great! People really do truly appreciate when you take the time to customize your cover letter when everyone else is phoning it in.
But, before you wax poetic for 10,000 words about how much you appreciate the organization’s new green initiative, make sure you’re remembering to talk about yourself and why you’d fit in perfectly with this environmentally-friendly group. Maybe you launched a recycling program at your current job, or maybe you volunteer to clean parks on the weekend, or maybe your job now involves alternative energy. Whatever it may be, make sure you connect the dots for the person reading it. Hiring managers aren’t just looking for fans, they’re looking for people who will continue making the company great.
Trust me: While people love being reminded why their companies are awesome, it doesn’t make you memorable at all.
4. You Proactively Brought Up Resume Red Flags, But Nothing Else
While you may be able to sneak some exaggerations about your qualifications into your materials, you’ll eventually get caught. (Either during the interview process, or worse, on the first day of your new job when you’re asked to translate for a Spanish-speaking client because you listed “conversational Spanish” as a skill.) So, it’s good to be as honest as possible from the start about what you can—and cannot—do.
However, that doesn’t mean you should waste this valuable space explaining away all the holes in your application. Here’s the thing: If you’re truly unqualified, you won’t be called in for the interview. That means there’s no need to spend any time with statements like, “You’ll probably notice I’ve never managed anyone before…” or “While I may not know how to use Photoshop…” (And yes, this still applies even if you throw in, “…but I’m a fast learner.” Never in the history of job descriptions has anyone ever written, “slow learners preferred.” Let’s always assume you learn at the speed of light.)
If you’re just missing a desired skill or two, then focus on the part of the job description that you do excel at. While you shouldn’t channel your inner Kanye in your cover letter, or ever really, you should use this space to make sure you sound your best. As Muse writer Lily Zhang says in an article about feeling underqualified for a job, “instead of drawing attention to your weaknesses, a better way to move on to your qualifications is to state your skills and ability to contribute directly. Stay positive, focus on your strengths, and immediately launch into your transferable skills and infectious enthusiasm for the position.”(Oh, and if you’re missing a whole lot more than one or two of the listed requirements, then this probably isn’t the right position for you.)
If you’ve committed any of the above mistakes, don’t worry. The fact you’re even customizing your materials at all instantly puts you leaps and bounds ahead of other candidates. Now you just have to make that last, little push that won’t only put you ahead of the competition—but places you at the very front of the pack.
Are you guilty of any of this? Has anyone ever spelled your name wrong? Tell me on Twitter!
Jenni Maier wrote her first book at the age of five. While it didn't quite take off, she's continued to write and edit whenever possible. She feels very lucky to have a career that allows her to do just that. Her work's been featured in Fast Company, TIME , Inc., her mother's Facebook statuses, and more. When she's not daydreaming about being a dog owner, she's either working through her Netflix queue or baking. Or, ideally, a combination of both. Say hi on Twitter.More from this Author