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10 Cover Letter Mistakes You Can Fix Right Now

10 Cover Letter Mistakes You Can Fix Right Now

As someone who has had the horrible task privilege of screening and hiring countless employees, I’ve seen cover letters and resumes of all different flavors fall across my desk. Some have been spectacular, while most have been tepid at best, and there have also been many that were so appalling that I wanted to set them on fire rather than besmirching the bin with their presence.

When you’re applying to work at a company, your cover letter is the first thing that the HR folks or hiring committee will see, so don’t screw it up. Below are ten egregious errors that potential applicants should avoid, plus a bit of advice on how to amend them.

1. “I Would Love to Work for Goggle.”

You would not believe how often people misspell the name of the company they’re applying to work for, and no, it isn’t a minor issue that will be overlooked. If you can’t put forth the effort to spell that correctly—or double-check your work, for that matter—how diligent would you be at the job itself?

2. “To Whom It May Concern.”

That would be the person doing the hiring. They have a name, they have a position in the company, and if they’ve placed an ad for a job opening with our company, there’s a pretty good chance that they’ve included their name along with the contact information. If they haven’t, this is a perfect opportunity for you to take some initiative and show them that you’re actually interested in working for them.

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On the rare occasions when a person’s name isn’t listed with the email address, do a quick search for the company’s phone number, and use your texting device for its alternate purpose: calling someone. Ask to speak to someone in HR, if possible, but if it’s a small organization and everyone knows everyone else, ask the receptionist who’s doing the hiring and how to spell that person’s name. It’s a personal touch, but shows that you’re willing to go the extra mile to do something the right way.

3. Too Long/Too Short

Your cover letter should be an introduction about yourself, including a few notes about specialized skills, and have enough of your personality to give them a sense of who you are. This is not an opportunity for you to spew forth your life story wherein you mention the prize you got for best science fair project in the fourth grade, or how poor you are right now and are thus desperate for work with anyone who’ll tolerate your presence.

Consider this letter to be a summation of who you are, and what you can offer. A couple of short paragraphs is more than sufficient to do this, and will do wonders for keeping you in the recruiter’s good books. No-one wants to plod through a page-long intro before every resume.

On a similar note, not saying enough in a cover letter is also the kiss of death. Writing something as simple as “My name is __. Here is my resume.” is just not enough. At all. Aim for around 200 words, and you should be golden.

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4. Spelling Errors

We’ve already covered the possibility of misspelling the company name, but you should be just as diligent about your spelling and grammar throughout your cover letter, resume, and any follow-up communiques. Your application will be placed in the shredder almost immediately if you misspell the recruiter’s name or the position you’re applying for.

Additionally, pay close attention to your own contact information: if you make a typo in your own email address, you won’t hear back from anyone, will you?

barely-speak-english

    5. Arrogance

    No-one likes a person who suffers from insufferable know-it-all-ism, nor do they want to work with someone who considers themselves superior to anyone else. It’s great to be confident about your abilities, but claiming to be the best in your field won’t win you any points. Writing things like, “I’m the best applicant out there,” or “You won’t find a superstar like me anywhere else,” will earn you nothing but contempt.

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    6. Banality

    It really is important to customize your cover letter to suit every company you apply to. You can put together a general template and then tweak it a bit for every application, but make sure that it’s tailored accordingly.

    Let’s say that you have an English degree and are applying to a number of different jobs. If you’re aiming for work as an ESL teacher, make mention of any additional languages you speak, and where you may have traveled. Are you applying for writing work? Make mention of any media you’ve been published in. Don’t repeat what’s in your resume, but take the opportunity to toss in a few gems that will make you stand out from other applicants.

    7. Poor Taste in Typefaces

    This one might not seem important, but it actually makes a world of difference.

    If your cover letter is being emailed, ensure that you’re using a clean sans serif font in plain black for easy readability. Although you want to put forth a bit of your individuality in your cover letter, this isn’t the opportunity for you to break out the twirly script fonts in turquoise or purple.

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    If you’re sending in a printed cover letter and resume, you have a bit more leeway. This rings especially true if you’re applying for a creative position (graphic designer, copywriter, etc.) as you now have the chance to express your personality with font pairings that you like, and that give a sense of who you are. If you choose Papyrus or Comic Sans, however, you will not make it to the interview room.

    8. Not Following Instructions

    Many job postings will have specific instructions for applicants to follow, and failure to do so is grounds for immediate resume incineration. If the listing says that you shouldn’t call to follow up, don’t call. If you’re instructed to attach a cover letter, resume, and relevant links to your work, then do so. The inability to follow basic instructions is not an appealing trait.

    9. Sending From an Unprofessional Email Address

    You may have thought that a cheeky email address was terribly clever when you were in high school, but it will not do you any favors when you’re applying for a job. It only takes a couple of minutes to create a Gmail account that has some permutation of your first name and last name, and you won’t have your letter pitched out because it came from moron@assbutt.com.

    10. Forgetting to Attach Your Resume

    Yes, it happens more often than you might imagine: people who send out fifty resumes a day seem to forget to attach files every so often, but that just helps to weed out the less diligent applicants.

    Be polite and respectful, end your cover letter by thanking the reviewer for their time, and good luck!

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    Catherine Winter

    Catherine is a wordsmith covering lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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    Published on September 16, 2020

    12 Practical Interview Skills to Help You Land Your Dream Job

    12 Practical Interview Skills to Help You Land Your Dream Job

    Today, with many companies going remote—at least until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine—technical proficiency is a vital skill for every interviewee to master. You may be asked to interview for a job on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. The way you handle yourself in the online interview (your interview skills) will say much about your ability to work from home efficiently.

    Does your workspace look clean or cluttered? Is the area free from noise? Is your home office well lit?

    Once hired, you may be asked to organize meetings on Zoom and other platforms. Along with mastering the technology, you will have to learn to follow certain protocols.

    Now is the time to get up to speed on your technical skills. Learn which interview skills are needed for the particular job for which you are applying and practice them.

    Online learning sites, such as LinkedIn Learning and Udemy, offer courses for free or a nominal membership fee. If you are a DIY type, make use of training videos offered through your particular digital tools.

    Additionally, demonstrating that you have these 12 interview skills will help you land your dream job.

    1. Organization

    When you work in a brick-and-mortar office, some of the organizing is left to others. Your direct supervisor may host a Monday morning quarterback meeting where each worker reports on the progress on their tasks.

    When you work from home, much of the organizing will be left up to you. To a much greater extent than before, you will need to develop a schedule and stick to it. Some tasks may be faster to complete from your home office where you don’t have other workers competing for your attention.

    Conversely, you may find that some tasks that would have gone quickly in an office seem to take forever from your home computer. Your phone may ring a lot, which can distract you, or you may have kids and a spouse who inadvertently disrupt your schedule.

    To do: Set a schedule and stick to it.

    To discuss during your interview: Be specific. Point to the interview skill you utilized to create a schedule for a complex work project and followed it.

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    2. Flexibility

    You set a schedule for the completion of your tasks, but your prospective boss gets their work done between the hours of 2:00 and 8:00 a.m. Your West Coast partners are three hours behind your East Coast partners, and one of your partners lives in England while another lives in Australia.

    Feedback and collaboration (see point 3) may need to happen asynchronously. Be the flexible candidate—the person who is willing to occasionally disrupt their schedule for the greater good of the team.

    For extra credit: don’t just look up time zones, look up whether they observe Daylight Savings Time.

    To do: Be flexible about meeting times.

    To discuss during your interview: Highlight a time when you worked on a team where members lived in different time zones. Discuss your processes.

    3. Collaboration

    As recently as six months ago, before the pandemic raged around the world, collaboration wasn’t quite as essential as it is today. In a remote office setting, collaboration doesn’t just mean working well with others—but actually sharing documents and editing them online on time.

    Several cloud-based tools, such as Google Drive, Basecamp, and Trello, enable the type of collaborative teamwork that most companies want today.

    To do: Download the correct software and practice using it.

    To discuss during your interview: Discuss how you worked remotely with a group. Share how you overcame certain challenges.

    4. Poise

    Murphy’s Law states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

    When things do go awry, keeping your wits about you will demonstrate your consummate professionalism under fire. This will show your future bosses that you will be able to work well under the pressures of remote work.

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    What could go wrong, you ask? You might be muted without realizing it—your Internet connection may not be robust, your headphones may blip out, your cellphone may ring, Zoom could have an outage. The list goes on and on.

    To do: Make sure you have the most up-to-date versions of Skype and Zoom uploaded.

    To discuss during your interview: Consider highlighting a time when a project did not go as planned. Demonstrate the interview skills that allowed you to rise to the challenge.

    5. Communication

    Your ability to handle online communication is one of the top critical skills you will need to thrive in today’s remote workplace. Download Slack if you haven’t already. Get used to toggling to a different form of online communication if one of your tools fails.

    When it comes to the preferred format for your online interview, demonstrate proficiency by offering several different options. Give your phone number, Google Chat Hangouts name, and Skype ID.

    To do: Familiarize yourself with video conference and online chat tools, such as Slack, Fleep, or Workplace by Facebook.

    To discuss during your interview: Be prepared to share the online communication tools you’re using and examples of how you use each one.

    6. Good Computer Hygiene

    Setting up a backup system for your computer files is one of today’s crucial requirements for working in the digital age. Storing documents that can be shared by team members is also an efficient way to work together on presentations, articles, and reports—although studies show nearly one-third of employees avoid them because of the time it takes to find documents.

    Be prepared in your interview to indicate your experience utilizing this technology, describing how you organize and store files using cloud-based collaboration tools. How do you keep track of links and tabs? Do you use Dropbox? Google Docs? Confluence? Others?

    To do: Take inventory of the cloud-based document sharing and storage systems you know and use.

    To discuss during your interview: Describe the document sharing tools and backup systems you utilize—both for personal protection and professional file sharing.

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    7. Proper Meeting Etiquette

    Today, presenting yourself virtually has its pros and cons. While you only have to show a professional persona from the waist up (make sure to straighten up your office space behind you), you must boost your energy to show that you’re engaged in the discussion.

    Make your voice as upbeat as possible. Have your talking points at the ready and be careful not to ramble on, as long virtual meetings easily become tiresome. Use the mute and chat features to avoid interruptions.

    To do: Once you know the meeting platform, make sure you have it mastered before your interview.

    To discuss during your interview: Offer to share your screen to show an example of a work project— while at the same time demonstrating your prowess with video conferencing tools.

    8. Respecting Feedback

    In the age of working remotely, there may not be as many systems in place to obtain feedback (such as yearly performance reviews). Workers may need to ask for feedback, while managers may need to give more feedback than usual as the team adjusts to working off-site. Respecting feedback is on top of the interview skills list that you should learn.

    Taking a proactive approach with giving and receiving feedback and incorporating it into your work style is a desirable quality that your employers will note.

    To do: Reflect on the positive feedback you’ve received from past employers to bolster your confidence.

    To discuss during your interview: Share a time when you received feedback that made you grow in the job. If you’re a manager, share a time when you gave feedback to an employee who needed to better their job performance.

    9. Project Management

    Staying on task with projects has evolved far past a to-do list, with electronic tools that can track time, manage team workloads, and even do the client billing. While your prospective employer may have its preferred project management program, your experience with any of the various options—whether it’s Basecamp, Teamwork, Smartsheet, or another—will be applicable.

    To do: Know which project management software is likely to be used by the industry in which you’re interviewing, and familiarize yourself with its features.

    To discuss during your interview: Highlight a project management feature that is particularly useful in helping you excel in your work, and explain how you utilize it.

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    10. Staying up to Speed

    Employers expect their remote workers to be technically proficient so that technology runs smoothly and doesn’t create work disruptions. Bosses count on remote workers to know enough about their systems to manage them without relying on the help of overworked IT staff.

    To do: Make sure you have a fast internet connection and have a back-up plan, such as a second computer or other tethered devices.

    To discuss during your interview: Note that you are diligent about keeping your computer and software up to date.

    11. Attention to Cybersecurity Issues

    “Virus” is a loaded term these days. Spreading a computer virus in your company, however, will not only bring productivity to a halt, but it will also make you a pariah. While working from public places using free Wi-Fi (with uneven security provisions) has waned, in pre-pandemic times, coffee shops accounted for 62 percent of Wi-Fi security breaches.

    To do: Keep antivirus software updated and don’t download software without verifying its authenticity.

    To discuss during your interview: Emphasize your awareness of cybersecurity risks and your care in taking necessary safety measures.

    12. Teamwork

    Work relationships now mostly happen in virtual settings, yet employers value team-oriented workers.

    Being a part of a team gives you a sense of connection and shared purpose. A well-honed team understands how mutual reliance makes the sum of its parts greater than when individuals act on their own, improving the end product.

    To do: Take stock of your attributes as a team player and where you can cultivate skills that will enable you to work more collaboratively.

    To discuss during your interview: Inquire about the company’s culture and how it encourages a sense of community despite working remotely.

    Final Thoughts

    Preparing for remote positions available in today’s job market will mean honing your interview skills to highlight your technical abilities as well as your adaptability. By adhering to these To-Do’s and perfecting your online interview skills and charisma, you will rise above the competition and win over any prospective employer.

    More Tips to Improve Your Interview Skills

    Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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