How Your Cover Letters Can Kill Your Job Chances
All too often, people spend time putting their CVs together, only to annihilate their chances of being shortlisted for interviews by sending them off accompanied by inferior cover letters.
The CVs may be beautifully targeted towards the vacancy and company being applied to, but the cover letters makes it sound as if they've barely read the job advert.
It's all too easy to wreck your chances by cutting corners with your cover letters, whether you're sending them by email or via the post. Let's take a look at some of the clangers you can drop.
But Surely Cover Letters Aren't Needed For Online / Email Applications?
Before you decide to stop reading because you submit all your applications online, the answer is very much "yes it does". Whether you write in the body of the email or attach a formal letter written, you should ensure your cover letters are as good as they can be.
This means writing cover letters that briefly introduces you and the main thrust of your application. True, in the email body, you don't need to do all the formatting that you would in hard copy, and the letter may be shorter, but you still need to make that vital first connection between your CV and the needs of the employer.
As you'd like the person reading your email to open the attachment, preferably with some interest behind their actions, it's important that you do so in the form of a cover letter. Why would they see you as a professional if you can't even introduce yourself properly? So, there's our first potential clanger: not writing cover letters at all.
Whose Interests Come First In Cover Letters?
This one's a classic - people write their cover letters, but fails to consider the employer's needs at all. The first function of cover letters is to alert the employer to the fact that the candidate offers skills, experience, knowledge and personal qualities that are an excellent match for their job vacancy criteria.
Unfortunately, lots of applicants focus on themselves and their own career aspirations. While goals are important, they should not be at the forefront now. It is for an employer to ask you about career direction at an interview. Not even mentioning the employer's requirements can see your application rejected very quickly indeed.
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What Should Come First in Your Cover Letters?
Think about who's going to be reading your cover letters at this point. It may be a manager who'll be supervising you, somebody within the HR department, or a recruitment agency representative. With email applications, it's not always possible to know, but if you do know, you should remember that reader's interests.
All are going to be interested in your ability and track record in generating income, saving them time and costs, finding more customers, adding to productivity, etc. You'll already have covered this in your CV, but you need to offer tasters of your achievements and hints of your potential in the cover letter. These should all be connected to the job description criteria.
Your cover letters should interest the reader to the point where they can't wait to read your CV. This is what your letter does: it sells your CV, which then sells you enough to gain an interview.
Don't Regurgitate Your CV in Your Cover Letters
Extracting highlights from your CV and pasting them into the cover letter isn't a good strategy. The reader will be bored when they come to your CV and find they've already read a good portion of it. Your cover letters become a lost opportunity, because you wasted the chance to really motivate the employer.
What you need to do is focus on one or two key achievements and describe them in a more personalised way than in your CV. In your cover letters, you can look forwards and state how and why you think your abilities, skills and experience will help the employer. You'll need to have done research on the employer beforehand in order to do so.
Duplicating Cover Letters
This is a bad one and employers can see through it straight away. If you are following the advice above, you'll know that you have to write an individual cover letter for each application. If you send a standard one-size-fits-all cover letter, it doesn't just show that you haven't written a personal letter, but says that you have weak communication skills.
That's a big negative!
What you're doing is sending spam to the employer. It's a weak way to sell and it doesn't work - when did you last buy something that arrived in your inbox or the post as spam? Send a letter like this and it's very likely that your CV won't even get looked at, as the employer is going to think you haven't even written an individual application.
In some cases, applicants have sent a duplicate letter and have failed to remove references to another employer and job vacancy. There is no point in even sending it as nobody is going to interview them.
Doing a Rush Job on Your Cover Letters
If you don't allocate enough time to writing your cover letters, the chances are that you'll fling it together at the last minute and make lots of errors. Some people who are not so good at proof-reading their documents will send the letter off without making corrections, meaning their letter is full of unnecessary typos.
Mistakes include leaving out the job title or reference number, meaning your cover letters don't find their way to the right person or department. Or, you may not say where you heard about the job. Employers usually like to know this detail. Other mistakes are irritating to the reader, e.g. failing to address the contact person correctly or using the wrong title.
Using a grammar or spell checker isn't enough on its own to guarantee correct language and sentence construction. Your cover letters needs to be read through properly, otherwise you'll look careless.
Cover Letters: Hitting the Wrong Note
It's so easy to get the tone of your cover letters wrong. While it has to be professional, it can still be personal and can convey more about your character, in some ways, than your CV. It's a lot easier to show motivation in a letter.
Common mistakes include being too chatty (seems presumptuous), being too brief (seems rude), being too enthusiastic (sounds immature), being overconfident (sounds arrogant) - and so it goes on. You should write as if to someone you know at work, an acquaintance but not a friend.
The Number One Rule, As Always
The only way you will ever avoid all these mistakes and write powerful cover letters is to do your research into each employer and vacancy. Your cover letters shouldn't be an afterthought - the last thing you do before licking the envelope or clicking the send button - but a well-crafted, integral part of your job application that won't kill your chances.
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Cover Letters Action Plan
Are you about to apply for a job? Here is what you can do to prepare for writing your cover letters:
- What is the job you're applying for? Have you researched the employer? Make a list of the key experience areas, skills and knowledge they are looking for, in order of priority. Find an achievement or notable point in your background that matches the most important ones.
- Write down what most attracts you about the job. Avoid money, benefits and holidays! You CAN say why you are interested in a job in your cover letters.
- What about your personality? What would you bring to the job that others might not? Think about your special individual attributes. Write these down. Can you write them up in a professional way, sounding calmly confident but not boastful?
- Look up some keywords and industry buzzwords for this kind of work. Some can come from the job description, while others can come from websites and similar job advertisements. You may already have done this when writing your CV.
- Can you sum up your suitability for the job in one or two sentences? This may be similar to the Profile on your CV. You can use this information to sum yourself up in your opening sentences.
- Looking at all this information, can you select the two or three most important strengths that you're offering? Think of it in terms of three paragraphs: relevant experience usually comes first, followed by specific skills and abilities, then your personal attributes.
- You need to select a knock-'em-dead achievement or example for each paragraph, preferably one that can be summed up in a sentence or two.
- Now start writing up the paragraphs. You can integrate details of additional strengths into each one, but try to stay focused and clear, to keep the reader reading on.
Other pages to view:
- Professional CV Service
- Professional Cover Letter by Bradley CVs
- How to Produce a Good Cover Letter
- Do You Still Need a Cover Letter?
- How to Write a Cover Letter That Gets You Noticed
- How to Write a Covering Letter (for Online Applications)
- How to Write a Cover Letter (for Postal Applications)
- How to Write a Letter
- Cover Letter Examples