How many times have you replied to a job ad via e-mail by shooting them a copy of your resume and cover letter?
I’m going to venture a guess and say at least 20 (but more likely hundreds of times) if you’ve been searching for any significant length of time.
Cover Letter Mistakes
Here are some of the most notorious cover letter mistakes we’ve seen and what you can do to greatly improve your chances of being noticed.
1. Attaching The Cover Letter To The E-mail
What’s wrong with that, you ask? Most hiring managers aren’t going to open the cover letter and read it. They’ll go straight to the resume instead. Want to ensure your cover letter gets read? Copy and paste it into the body of the e-mail. Whoever received the e-mail will be much more likely to read it if it’s already right there in front of their face.
2. Writing Your Whole Life Story In The Body Of The E-mail
Don’t go overboard with details; keep it short. The hiring manager won’t be willing to invest a lot of time reading your e-mail. Keep it short and to the point.
3. Providing Information Not Relevant To The Position
Here is a great example. When I want to bring an additional resume/cover letter writer on staff, I’m not looking for someone with technical writing expertise, article writing skills, or journalism savvy. Those forms of writing aren’t relevant to what we do here. I want a writer who has extensive expertise and certification in resume writing.
If someone goes on and on in their cover letter (or in the body of the e-mail) about all their other writing experience, they will lose my interest. Instead, I want them to tell me about their most relevant experience as it relates to my needs. I want them to tell me about any resume writing experience they have. Give the hiring manager a brief overview of the most relevant experience you have, appropriate to the position they are trying to fill. This will pique their interest—rather than lose it.
4. Excluding Information They’ve Specifically Asked You To Include
Depending on the position, the employer may ask you to submit a sample of your work, portfolio, hours of availability, or even salary requirements. Whatever it is they’ve asked you to include, make sure you include it in your cover letter.
If not, you will most certainly be removed from consideration for failing to follow instructions. Following instructions and acknowledging everything the employer has asked you to address in the job ad not only saves the employer time but makes you look good. I can tell you this from experience because 9 out of 10 applicants will fail to address every stipulation the employer has listed. It happens to us all the time.
5. Not Using A Cover Letter At All
We’ve received e-mails from applicants, and the body of the e-mail provides either little or no information whatsoever. Some simply state, “Here is my resume for your review.” You are selling yourself short by not including at least a brief introduction. Especially if the employer outlines specific requirements. Take the time to write, “I see you need someone with availability to work nights and weekends; I would enjoy working these hours and am available to do so.” Or, “I have included a sample of my work for your consideration along with my resume. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.”
6. Forgetting To Tell Them Why You’re The Best Fit
Let me tell you about one of THE BEST cover letters I’ve ever seen: I could tell this person put effort into it—and she took the time to specifically and meticulously review our job requirements. She scrutinized our requirements and detailed in her cover letter how she had experience meeting those needs. It was applicable, relevant, and attention getting. It was probably one of the only cover letters that actually made us want to read the corresponding resume.
7. Using A Boring Closing Statement
Instead of using the same old boring line, spice it up a bit. One of the more daring cover letter closings I have read closed with, “Call today, don’t delay.” I applauded her boldness and had to call her. The closing was confident, feisty, and it certainly grabbed my attention. Not to mention the entire cover letter addressed everything she brought to the table as a potential employee and how these elements were relevant to meeting our needs.
What I am trying to get you to see is boring the hiring manager with details not relevant to the opening—or not making the most of the space and time you’re getting is really to your detriment. Instead, take the time to write something catchy, relevant, and targeted to the position for which you are applying.
Sure, it may take a few extra minutes to tweak your cover letter—but in the end, if you get the interview, won’t it be worth it?
Tips for resume writing via The Wall Street Journal
Your 15-Second ‘Elevator Pitch’
If you want to convert your 15 seconds of fame into an in-person interview at the company of your choice, include a summary statement at the opening of your resume.
A well-written summary statement tells me how your experience and skill set will help my company solve a particular challenge, become more profitable or efficient, or break into or further penetrate target markets. In other words, it will make me want to read the rest of your resume and consider you for the opportunity. The best summary statements I’ve seen are no more than three to five sentences long and show me that you clearly understand the role you’re applying for.
— Cheryl Ferguson, recruiter, The Recruiter’s Studio
A Better Use of That Space?
While a summary could clarify your goal or objective, I don’t think it is a necessary part of one’s resume. Recruiters review candidates’ information every day, and look for certain skills and experiences found in the body of a resume. Save the extra space for accomplishments, goals achieved, awards and unique skills relevant to the job.
— Bob Hancock, senior manager of global talent acquisition, Electronic Arts
Review Real Situations
Including an objective targeted to a specific position can be helpful since it quickly tells an employer why the job candidate is interested in the opportunity and is the right fit for it. The key is to provide information that will pique the hiring manager’s interest without adding superfluous details or items listed later in the resume.
Only include an objective if the resume is targeted to a particular opportunity. Omit this section when creating a general resume.
— DeLynn Senna, executive director of North American permanent placement services, Robert Half International
Most Useful Cases
For me, it’s most important in two cases:
1. Executive or Experienced Candidates: If you have been in business for a while and have taken on a variety of challenges, and even if you have depth in one discipline, it’s still helpful to know your elevator pitch. An experienced executive will be able to make a pithy statement about top-level skills.
2. Career Changers: If you are trying to reposition yourself from one discipline to another (and I know people who have done this successfully), you should explicitly state the skill sets that are directly transferable. A candidate I know went from market research/analytics to organizational development and this [objective statement] was crucial for the hiring teams to connect the dots.
— Ross Pasquale, Search Consultant, Monday Ventures
If the candidate fully understands the job they are applying for, a succinct objective or summary could be helpful. However, many candidates do a poor job at making their statement match the position of interest. Instead, there is a tendency to lean towards making a broad statement in their objective such as, “To obtain a position in the financial services industry.” A statement such as this loses the momentum the “objective” or “summary” could have had.
— Robyn Timmerman, recruiter, Wells Fargo Wealth Management Group
By Alison Green | U.S.News & World Report LP – Wed, Oct 24, 2012 1:54 PM EDT
Long before you get to a job interview, hiring managers are forming opinions about you based on your resume and your job history. Here are six of the most common red flags they look for.
1. You have multiple short-term jobs. If you have a history of quickly moving from one job to the next without staying very long, employers will wonder whether you get bored easily, or can’t keep a job, or don’t know how to identify the right fit for yourself. If you do have good reasons for the job changes (such as a spouse in the military), make sure to fill in your interviewer quickly so she doesn’t draw the wrong conclusions.
2. You quit your last job with nothing else lined up. Since most people line up a new job before quitting an old one, employers raise their eyebrows if you left without something new waiting. They wonder what the real story is: Did you blow up one day and walk off the job in a fit of anger? Do you get upset at work and make impulsive and rash decisions? Were you actually fired but trying to claim you left on your own?
3. You were laid off from your last job. While plenty of layoffs are about company cutbacks or restructuring, employers know that companies sometimes use them as an opportunity to get rid of lower performers. To combat this question, be sure to mention if your whole team or division was let go. If you were the only one laid off, that raises more questions than if you were part of a group that was laid off.
4. You’ve been unemployed for a while. Even in this economy, some hiring managers look at long-term unemployed candidates and wonder if there’s a reason that other employers haven’t hired them. Fortunately, many employers do understand that it can take time for even good candidates to find work in this market–but it’s important to show that you’ve been spending your time volunteering, building your skills, or something other than a year-long job search.
5. You have large gaps between jobs. When employers see gaps of unemployment, they wonder what happened during that time. Did you leave the previous job with nothing lined up, and if so, why? (See No. 2) Were you working somewhere that you’ve deliberately left off your resume, and if so, what are you hiding? Gaps raise questions that you don’t want on a hiring manager’s mind.
6. None of your past managers are on your reference list. If you only offer peers as references, or other people who didn’t directly supervise your work, hiring managers are going to wonder why. Managers are usually best able to speak to the quality of your work and your strengths and weaknesses, and steering reference-checkers away from those conversations can be a red flag. Plus, employers will usually ask to be put in touch with your past managers anyway.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She’s also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager’s Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.