Pitfalls of Cover Letter Writing

Irrelevant Information:

It is so easy to include irrelevant information in your cover letters that you need to be constantly vigilant in this regard. A hiring manager won’t spend a lot of time wading through your career objectives and past experience if you don’t quickly relate them to the position in question.

The easiest way to restrict yourself to only include relevant information is to read the job description a couple of times before you compose the cover letter. Even then, keep referring back to the original job description as you write the letter. Each sentence and paragraph should tie in with the job description or your knowledge of the company somehow.

Tone of Letter:

E-mail has made our communication online much more informal. Despite this, cover letters submitted online should still be scrupulously reviewed before sending.

Don’t be overly familiar or use clich├ęs that show a lack of professionalism on your part. The cover letter is an introduction to parties unknown. How often do you continue talking to the person at a dinner party who is overbearing or presumes to know to much about you and your business.

Likewise, don’t plead for an interview. Your cover letter explains why a hiring manager should want to interview you, describing how your objectives, skills and experience would make you a valuable addition to the team.

Be polite. Be specific. Be professional. Don’t beg.

Don’t be Excessive

It’s as easy to write the Great American Novel when you’re given the chance to sell yourself, but a cover letter shouldn’t attempt to say everything.

A standard cover letter is four paragraphs in length. Every statement should be directed to placing your resume in context and soliciting an interview.

A cover letter should state where and why you are applying. Two paragraphs can be dedicated to relating your objectives, skills and experience to the position in question. The final paragraph should detail how you may be contacted and supply information on availability, etc.

Don’t Use the Same Letter for Every Application

A job application is worth 10-15 minutes of your time isn’t it? That’s all it will take to write a targeted cover letter.

Don’t try to use a form letter for all your applications. It will be a rare occurrence when two jobs can use the same cover letter.

In order to flick the switches in the hiring manager’s brain, that tell them you are a good enough fit to bring in for an interview, you need to tailor the cover letter appropriately.

Don’t be lazy. 10-15 minutes of your time on each cover letter will increase your chances of landing an interview. In the long run, you’ll actually have to spend less time in the job application process than if you save time writing cover letters but have to quadruple your applications to get the same number of interviews.

Using the Same Stationery

If you are sending an employer a paper application, make sure that your resume and cover letter are printed on the same paper.

The same rules on paper, font and print quality that apply to resumes apply to cover letters. Click here to visit the article on layout of resumes.

When applying online, use a regular font for your cover letter. Arial, Helvetica or Times Roman should do fine. These are attractive and professional fonts that any computer should be able to read. An exotic font will get the hiring manager’s attention, but likely, the wrong kind of attention.

In the same vein, don’t “highlight” your cover letter with showy graphics or motifs (graphic designers may except themselves here). Including fancy Word clipart will detract from the professional message you are trying to convey.

Demonstrate Knowledge, Not Ignorance

It is extremely valuable to show you know a bit about the company or industry. This is especially true if you used to work for a competitor or have experience in the same business sector.

The pitfall here is not to include erroneous information. Do not start writing about the company’s products if you don’t really have a clue. A decent hiring manager will quickly conclude you don’t know what you’re talking about and “bin” your application.

Avoid using vague assertions like, “I am a regular user of your products.” You may think that you are working yourself into the hiring manager’s good books, but what you’re really demonstrating is a lack of substance and knowledge.

“I helped implement your web-solution on our corporate website” is a far more qualified statement than, “I have read many things about your web solution and have always been interested in working with you.”

What differentiates the former from the latter is who gains? In the former, the client will gain because you’ve already worked on implementing their product as a client. Great. Very useful. The latter merely tells the hiring manager that you’re a wannabe employee. Something they already knew because they’re reading your cover letter (but not for much longer).

This doesn’t mean that you can’t use generally available information to pad your case. Drawing intelligent conclusions such as, “After reading about your recent acquisition of firm X, I believe you are firmly positioned to take the lead in this market.” You can even repurpose news articles you’ve read about your target company, but please, be careful!

Remember Who’s Doing the Hiring

It’s OK to tell the hiring manager what you’re looking for in a position, but remember that this shouldn’t take the form of a demand. Whatever it is you want from a job, should in some way benefit the company.

For instance, stating that you “want to work in an environment which favors personal initiative and fosters an entrepreneurial spirit” will help sell you in the dotcom world or a small business, but might help end your application if you’re applying for a financial or legal institution.

Similarly, when explaining how you may be contacted, give the employer breathing room. Don’t list specific times you may be contacted, but convey that you may be called or e-mailed at the employer’s convenience.

Ensure Your Cover Letter Makes Sense to Somebody Besides You

You’ll get practiced at tailoring your objectives, skills and experience to a job description very quickly with time.

During your initial attempts at composing a cover letter, however, reread your letter several times and have a friend or family member read it to ensure that you are communicating your intent clearly.