Lessons From Real-Life Cover Letter Mistakes
A cover letter can be the first step of a new career journey. Or it can be a dead end that dooms your attempts to get a job. It all has to do with how you write it.
We collected some real-life examples of dead-end cover letters to serve as examples of what not to do the next time you're making first contact with a prospective employer.
1. Self-Serving: "I'm interested in seeing what your firm can do to help me find new clients. ..."
FYI: Whoever is vetting candidates doesn't care all that much about what the company can do for you. She's interested in what you can do for the company. And she has the luxury of being self-serving in that regard. The job seeker, typically, does not.
In your cover letter, avoid describing how you can benefit from the job -- write about how the company can benefit from hiring you.
Your letter should succinctly put your experience and skills in the context of the job you're hoping to get. The employer has a need -- it's your job to demonstrate that you can fulfill that need. And if you can prove that, you'll be closer to fulfilling your need for income, career development, etc.
2. Desperate: "I'm currently looking for any paying position freelance, part-time or full-time."
FYI: If desperation had an odor, it would be somewhere between rotten eggs and microwaved fish -- something people would want to get away from. Fast. And like those people in the preceding stink scenario, hiring managers avoid desperation.
You'll never get a job just because you need a job. A prospective employer wants you to want to work for his company. To him, the company is a special place. He wants to feel that it would be special to you, too -- that working there would be a milestone in your career and you'd give all you could to make it successful.
Even if the bills are piling up and you desperately need a job -- don't let it show. Use your cover letter to describe why you want to work at that particular company.
3. Irrelevant: "I'm married and at the present time, live in a farm located on the countryside ... from where I attend to my clients online, grow organic vegetables and raise my two small daughters."
FYI: You're a person of varied interests, hobbies and talents. You have kids or pets. You're in a community acting troupe. Your chili took first prize at the annual cook-off.
But save all these personal tidbits for small talk with new co-workers after you actually get the job. Every word of your cover letter should aim to pique the interest of the person reading it enough to get them to take a look at your resume -- and, once they do, the letter should put your resume in the context of the open position.
4. Careless: "... and would love to offert my skills."
FYI: If you don't take the time to proofread and spellcheck your cover letter, a hiring manager will take the time to toss it in the wastebasket (or drag it to the recycling bin).
5. Lacking: "Please see my resume attached. I look forward to speaking with you."
FYI: The above is not an excerpt. It's the whole cover letter. As mentioned earlier, your cover letter should aim to put your skills and experience in context with the job and get a hiring manager to move onto the next step of reading your resume. It should also help you start to build rapport with a prospective employer. The example above does none of those things.
6. Lengthy: On the other hand, some cover letters we heard about went on for more than 1,000 words.
FYI: There's a saying in the news business -- burying the lede. That is, putting the most important or interesting info deep in the body of an article when it should be up top. If your cover letter drones on for 700, 800, 900 or more words, there's a good chance you're burying the lede under a bunch of superfluous stuff.
Regardless if that's the case, the very appearance of a novella-length cover letter is enough to turn off a hiring manager -- especially when she has a hundred more cover letters waiting to be read. Keep it succinct -- three or four short paragraphs max -- and include only the information most likely to get someone to consider you a possible viable candidate and look at your resume. You'll have plenty of opportunity to expound your experience once you get that interview.
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