We can call a résumé a technical document. A technical document has no scope for errors. What you present in your résumé is correct data. For example, let us say that you were born on the 22nd of April 1986. That is a fact. That is data verifiable. It is exact. Similarly your education. Only one unique individual such as you has one hundred percent verifiable data that ties into you and your records whether they be your parents, your academic grades, sports accomplishments and or any other such.
On the other hand, a cover letter while technically speaking may not be a ‘technical’ document comparable to the résumé that is under reference, it highlights your other skills that may not be finite. That is the reason why we need to be more careful in crafting a cover letter. All errors and mistakes in creating a cover letter straight away contribute to your failure in provoking the HR personnel to send you the call letter.
So let us go through the 10 most common cover letter mistakes and see how you can overcome them. These tips come to you from my experience of having poured over thousands of cover letters and résumés.
1. Career Objectives: The first thing you should be doing is to address your cover letter to the job you are applying for. The HR executive is not interested in how that particular position is going to help you progress in your life. S/he is more concerned about what you did, how you are helping the current employer or helped the previous employer. Your cover letter should reflect your genuine interest in the position that you are applying for. Ideally, it should also be clear about how long you intend to be with the company should you be invited to join them. Consider the difference between these two real-life examples:
Wrong example: ” Through my experience as a Sales Executive is gratifying I am looking at an administrative position in the Purchase department to help hone my negotiation skills.”
Right example: “This Sales Executive position excites me and is sure I would be able to contribute significantly to the turnovers if I am given an opportunity. You may please consider my performance with my current position.”
2. Wasted space: Ideally cover letters need not extend beyond four paragraphs. You would be wasting precious white space repeating the obvious – mentioning the position and how you came to know about it and why you are applying, especially when it appeared in the “situations vacant” column. Instead of that, it would be better if you just mention the skill sets that you have and how you would be able to add value to the position that you are seeking. A lot of rhetoric would be out of the window and only what matters, in this example is, your people skills and your experience should be highlighted. Mentioning other things that are irrelevant to the current assignment that you are eying only weakens your cover letter.
Wrong example: ” This is with reference to the “Situation vacant”, an advertisement that appeared in today’s The Times, pg 4, for the position of a sales executive. I have graduated from the University of Midlands, majoring in Sales Management.” The HR executive is aware that you have applied for this position. Besides, you have already mentioned it in your résumé. It would be better if you stick to establishing your skill sets as a Salesperson and how you helped your current employer reach the set goals.
3. Cover letter templates/forms: There are plenty of sites out there that have a template or a form letter in place. It is like walking into a store and picking up a shirt. A shirt has a collar, two sleeves, a pocket, and buttons right across the front to hold it in place. Similar to any letter, you have an address, a subject, an opening paragraph, an introduction and elaborate on it in the next paragraph and then you have a closing. There ends the similarity. The fabric of the shirt is different. The shirt you pick up depends on the occasion you have in mind. So is with the cover letter. The position you seek is different. The employer is unique. So are their expectations from you. You need to tailor your cover letter exactly to the potential employer’s needs. You do not pick up a unisex, fit-all shirt. Similarly, you do not have a universal cover letter template or a form. Every job is unique. So is every employer. Your cover letter should make it abundantly clear to HR your commitment and familiarity with the position that you are aspiring to get into. HR can identify a template or a form letter and throw it into the dust bin or move it to the recycle bin.
In a real-life situation, I had come across a template wherein the applicant had filled in the blanks with a pen. The worst-case scenario is that – you are insulting HR.
4. Do not beg: Never ever pour out your woes into your cover letter and beg for a job. You should always quantify your positive attitude and make a strong pitch about why you think you are more suitable for the position. You should in your cover letter sound more determined and not at all desperate. The HR person should find a lot of optimism and enthusiasm from you towards the position. On the other hand, should you pour out your heart about how important this job is to you he or she may be turned off by your desperate plea for employment? However, a fine line often separates the two, so the best advice would be to follow your instincts.
Wrong example: In one of those cover letters there was this plea: ” Look I have my mom in the hospital and I need to pay those bills. So please help me with this job.” A classic shout from the rooftops,” “I AM VERY BADLY IN NEED OF MONEY!”
5. Missing résumé: Check. Once. Check again. Double-check. See all the attachments are in place. You have also mentioned in your PostScript that you have enclosed your résumé. But you forgot to staple it. It is very easy to forget to attach files while sending your cover letter through email. This is a fatal mistake. That HR is not going to call you or mail and ask you to send the résumé again. Because there are plenty of others who did it right without committing that grave and fatal oversight.
6. Typing mistakes: You call them typos. It is very easy to make all those typographic errors. But it is also very easy for HR to discard your cover letter especially when it is full of annoying typing mistakes. You are deliberately playing into his or her hands. You are helping them make a choice that is detrimental to your success.
Here are a few common technical mistakes to watch out for when proofreading your letter:
- Checking the spelling of the name of the employer and see that you have it right.
Check to get the correct spelling of the hiring individual name.
Check the address, email, phone numbers again and again and make sure that you got them right.
- It is very easy to make the mistake of indicating the name of one organization on the envelope and an other, on the cover letter you are inserting into that envelope, especially when you are applying many at one go. Please proof read and spell check.
7. Corrections: Your cover letter should contain all the relevant information. In case you have forgotten for some reason to include your contact detail or details like email or your phone number and such things, please do not try to overwrite or scribble again. My sincere advice to you would be to fill in those details and print it out again. It is considered unprofessional if you try to scribble, fill in with a hand, or worse still, lazy. Please avoid using a post-it or sticking something to the cover letter. Do not use the correction fluid either. It is always better to retype it and print it again. But before you print it again, proofread it for mistakes and omissions, and commissions.
8. Photographs: Until or unless you are specifically asked to send your photograph never volunteer it. They are in the serious business of hiring talent that would complement their own talent pool and not otherwise. So please avoid pinning, stapling or attaching your photographs to either the cover letter or the résumé.
9. Signature: Last but not least. I have come across any number of cover letters and résumés that do not have the signature of the candidate that is applying for the job. You should append your signature at the close of your cover letter and ideally the résumé too.
10. Stationary: Please avoid stationary that is gaudy and with bright colors. Never use your personal stationery that would send out a signal that you are too casual about your job application. White and ivory color papers are best with black print.
Your signature gives that personal touch to your application. So do it. Sign it before you mail it. Do not use a hand script font and spoil that sense of personal touch. Sign it either in black or blue color ink.
Wish you the BEST OF LUCK!
Some more tips:
- You could use Arial or Times New Roman font – size 10 pt. Do not use transparent or personal stationary while applying.
- Let your cover letter adopt a serious and professional tone.
- Research the company you are planning to join. Try to have accurate details. Today there are many avenues that are open to you to find out much about these organizations. However while trying to incorporate such data in your cover letter make sure that it is accurate and authentic.
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