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Cover Letter Mistakes

Learn about three cover letter mistakes and how to avoid them.

Avoid the Top Three Cover Letter Mistakes!

by Deborah Walker

As a career coach and professional resume writer, I'm often asked "How important are cover letters to my job search?" My answer is, "It depends on how long you want to search for your next job." If you are in no hurry to get interviews, then don't worry about your cover letter.

The fact is I've never met a job searcher who wants to have a painfully slow job search. The whole point of sending out resumes is to get multiple interviews as quickly as possible. But many job seekers still unwittingly sabotage their efforts by using substandard cover letters. Instead of helping you, your cover letter may actually be hurting your job search.

For fast job search results, make sure to avoid these top three cover letter mistakes:

1. Not understanding the hiring motives of your audience
2. Repeating rather than introducing your resume
3. Overuse of the word "I"
1. Not understanding the hiring motives of your audience
There are three basic audiences that a job seeker sends his/her resume to: executive decision-makers, resume screeners, and third-party recruiters. Each of these groups has its own hiring motives.
  • Executive decision-makers are looking for candidates who will have a significant impact on bottom-line initiatives, such as time saved, income generated, revenue built, etc.
  • Resume screeners are searching for candidates who directly match the lists of qualifications in the job description.
  • Third-party recruiters are looking for selling points to help position you as a top candidate.

Knowing these hiring motives will help you craft your cover letter specifically to catch the attention of your particular hiring audience. By appealing directly to the reader, you are creating an immediate bond that will make you a stronger candidate.

2. Repeating rather than introducing your resume

Repeating the exact same things you wrote in your resume is one of the most common cover letter mistakes. No one wants to read the same thing twice. By the time most people have finished writing their resume, they feel that they have run out of ideas and just cut and paste to create a cover letter.

Instead, the cover letter should be what sells the reader on your skills. Like the jacket-cover introduction to a good book, the cover letter should give the reader a taste of the great things to come and encourage them to read more.

If you are don't have any idea what your top skills are and how they will help the company, neither will your reader. Take the time to craft the right words and statements to make your skills shine.

3. Overuse of the word "I"

A cover letter that begins nearly every sentence with "I" is as boring as a conversation with someone who only talks about himself. That kind of person one avoids at all costs. Is that the way you want your reader to see you?

Focusing all the attention on yourself may seem like a good way to sell your skills. But it can also reflect lack of interest in the company, in the job, and in making a real contribution to that workplace. There's a good balance to be drawn between selling yourself and selling what you can do for the company.

Creating variety in the sentences of your cover letter is an easy way to show your interest without being self-centered. By shifting the emphasis to the recipient/company - and away from yourself - you can prove that your main interest is not just in winning the job but also in doing it effectively. Try to rewrite sentences that start with "I," "me," or "my," to start with "You," or "Your." Show how you can make a difference for them.

A cover letter that is poorly written may cause your resume to be ignored. But a well-crafted cover letter will invite and encourage the reader to take a closer look at your resume. You'll make a positive first impression before your resume is even opened.

Rather than making your cover letter an afterthought, take the time to really consider the type of presentation your cover letter will make. If your resume isn't winning you job interviews, consider hiring a professional resume writer to help. It's true what they say: You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

Deborah Walker, CCMC
Career Coach ~ Resume Writer