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10 Cardinal Sins of Cover Letter Writing

  1. Applying for a job when you don’t meet the job requirements. If a job is a good fit, you’ll be able to easily articulate how you’re qualified in the cover letter.
  2. “Dear Hiring Manager….” Yes, there are times when—even after serious sleuthing —you’re unable to locate the name of the person making the hiring decision.  Search  LinkedIn, Google and Facebook…do everything in your power to find out the name of a real person (make sure to spell it and get their title right) before resorting to a generic salutation.
  3. Showing your creativity. Don’t get me wrong…creativity is at a premium in the marketplace but the cover letter is neither the time nor the place to stand out with interesting fonts, graphics, and designs. This isn’t to say you won’t be able to let your wild side out later but—for now at least—what generally works is keeping it professional.
  4. Not being clear. Make it obvious to whoever is reading the letter that you’re the person for the job.  Don’t leave it to the reader to understand how working in IT may have prepared you to be an Editorial Manager.
  5. Writing a lengthy letter. Your letter should be three short paragraphs max.  The bulk of the middle paragraph should be a bulleted list of 3 or 5 achievements (make it an odd number because the mind works better with odd numbers).
  6. Citing items of no interest to the hiring manager. Do you really think the fact that it’s an easy commute for you will make you stand out from the rest of the candidates?
  7. Not including numbers. Did you increase it or did you increase it 10%?  If you have numbers, use them.  It’s more powerful.
  8. Not pointing out how you are uniquely qualified. Most of the applicants will have experience but:  How do you lead the pack?  How do you fit the bill completely?  Fill in the blank then include this in your letter: “My passion for __________ and my background in ________ should make me uniquely qualified to excel in this job.
  9. Pointing out something that could look like a red flag. It’s not that you shouldn’t be honest—you should.  But this might not be the place to point out huge gaps in your work history, for example.  For the purposes of the cover letter, lead with—and stick with—your strengths.  You know…the things that are going to cause them to give you a call.
  10. Writing like you’re asking for a favor. Instead, end with power.  Close by saying something like “Please give me a call to schedule a time to talk about how I can work with you.”  This phrasing plants the seed that you have something of value to offer.  A good match, after all, is when both parties have something to gain from the partnership.
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