Top 5 Common Cover Letter Pitfalls to Avoid

Some people may argue, legitimately, that many human resource managers and hiring directors barely exact a passing glance at the cover letters that job applicants labor so diligently over.

But it never seems to fail that while many qualified candidates have a pretty solid résumé, most don’t deliver on the cover letter. So why are writing these documents so darned difficult? The main reason is that the majority of people are extremely uncomfortable with writing in general, and don’t really understand the exact purpose of a cover letter.

Your goal with this document is to interest an employer in you enough to move on to your résumé… you capture their interest, demonstrate an understanding of their unique needs/focus, and then demonstrate how you can solve their problems.

I always tell clients that it’s like conducting advertising campaigns… what problem does the target audience have, and how is your product going to fix it? If you shift your thinking to see that you are the product that is going to fix the employer’s problem, then writing a cover letter suddenly becomes much easier.

Keep that purpose in mind, and make sure to follow these tips to avoid some of the most common pitfalls of writing cover letters. You’ll have better luck as a result!

1) Understand that this letter is about THEM, not you. Have you ever been at a cocktail reception, met a new person, and it turns out that all they can talk about is themselves and how awesome they are? Blah, blah, blah, blah! We all tune out when the person we are interacting with shows no interest in us, right? Same goes with the cover letter. CONNECT with the employer – build some rapport and show that you UNDERSTAND their company and needs. If you take a moment to understand your audience, suddenly, a cover letter changes into a whole new document for you. It’s a way to sell yourself to solve their problems, not just blab on and on about things that don’t matter to them. And for Pete’s sake, here’s the biggest tip regarding this point: Don’t outline how this job will help you. The employer doesn’t care about you… they only care about their bottom line!

2) Don’t bury your job target. Quickly identify your targeted position for the reader by putting (after the target contact’s address block) one paragraph return down: “RE: (Name of position for which you are applying)” in bold and underline. If the company is recruiting for several positions concurrently, having this readily identifiable note helps the person or program screening the document place you into the correct pile. Additionally, this streamlines the mechanics of your opening line in the cover letter body to seamlessly deliver a compelling ‘hook’ that entices the reader to continue on into the document.

3) Keep your personal brand consistent. Make sure that you use the same contact information block/format for yourself in your cover letter as you do in your résumé. You come across smoother and more polished that way!

4) Be concise – no more than one page. No one wants to plow through a two- or three-page cover letter… the longer you make this document, the more you dilute the impact that it has with the employer. Think short, snappy, and attention grabbing. The résumé is the follow up with the facts to back you up.

5) Don’t regurgitate / repeat the résumé. Save the technical or job-associated jargon and details about your accomplishments for the résumé. I use the formula that the RESUME (facts) + the COVER LETTER (compelling reason to hire you) = THE JOB.

Keeping these tips in mind will help you write to the intended audience and capture a prospective employer’s interest… instead of boring them to tears!