Cover letters are your first impression in most cases. As discussed in Part 1, sometimes the “mistake” is glaring; sometimes it’s more understated. Here’s a look at a few of the latter. We covered three oops examples in Part 1. Here are four more and tips on how to avoid them. Again, these examples are taken from my client files—all true real-life examples from their before letters.
Cover Letter: Oops #4
Tone turmoil. Tone problems are subtle and may be sometimes hard to identify. When reading your cover letter, watch for tone problems by asking yourself, after each sentence, “Does this statement boost my application or standing? Could a hiring manager interpret it in an unfavorable light?” Have a second reader review your letter. If the letter’s wording is questionable, rewrite it.
A cover letter should balance a middle ground between extremely formal, which can come across as pretentious, and extremely informal, which can come across as presumptuous. Try to sound genuine, not stilted. When in doubt, err on the side of formality.
Cover Letter: Oops #5
Incorrect employer information. If you were an employer, would you want to hire a candidate who confuses your company’s products and services, or misquotes recent activities? It happens! I’ve heard stories from candidates and hiring managers attesting to this!
Verifying accuracy of any company information mentioned in your letter is the step to preventing this type of oops. On the other hand, if you haven’t researched the company, don’t bluff. Statements like “I know about your company” or “I am familiar with your products” signal to an employer that you haven’t done your homework.
Cover Letter: Oops #6
Witty anecdotes. Picture yourself in an interview setting, face to face with a hiring manager you’ve never met prior to the interview. Trying to be funny in this scenario is not recommended. It certainly is not appropriate in the initial cover letter communications. Remain professional and polite. If this seems like a no-brainer, let me tell you I’ve seen it! I’ve seen cover letters containing every humor attempt from cartoons, to one-liners, to statements like “[insert candidate’s name here] can leap tall buildings at a single bound.”
Cover Letter: Oops #7
Clichés and comparisons. Avoid using clichés and obvious comparisons. Hiring folks have seen it all; and they will not be impressed. In fact, these types of expressions detract from your letter’s primary function: to highlight your most notable skill sets, qualifications and value relevant to the targeted job and company.
True file examples of what not to do:
“I am a people person.”
“Teamwork is my middle name.”
“Your practice is known as the crème de la crème of law firms.”
“I am as sharp as a tack.”
“In all your candidates, I am the bright and shining star.”
Cover letter: do and don’t bonus tips:
- Do make sure your contact information is included (omission happens quite often).
- Do keep the letter brief and to the point.
- Do accentuate what you can offer the company, not what you hope to gain from them.
- Don’t just repeat information verbatim from your resume.
- Don’t overuse the personal pronoun “I”.
- Don’t send a generic or form letter.
Whether you are a cashier or a CEO, a career changer or climber, there’s a common denominator with cover letters. They have to catch the attention of the hiring manager. There’s a wrong way and a right way to do this. We know that a cover letter should contain zero typos and be grammatically correct. But this is your introduction to the people you want to be picked by. There are nuances; it’s the first step of a long dance. Intent and tact matter.
Do you have examples to share of cover letters gone bad or done right? I’d love to hear from you. Are you struggling with cover letter issues? I can help!