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by Mary Kate Sheridan | December 23, 2019

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A cover letter isn’t a mere formality—those in charge of hiring actually read them. And if your cover letter isn't up to snuff, your application may head straight to the reject pile. Here are 5 cover letter mistakes to avoid so that your job application makes it to the next round and—hopefully—gets you an interview.

Mistake No. 1: Relying on a Template

I know it is tempting to search online for a template and use it to create your own cover letter. But guess who else is doing the same thing? Every other applicant applying for the job. I am not saying to ignore cover letter templates altogether. They are incredibly useful—as a jumping off point. Use the templates to get an ideas on how to organize your letter, as well as what a professional letter looks like. But then make it your own. One of the worst mistakes you can make is having a boring letter that looks like every other one in the hiring manager’s in box.

Mistake No. 2: Not Customizing for the Employer

Last time I checked, very few people are named “Sir” or “Madame.” And when I receive a cover letter referring to me as either—or “To whom it may concern”—I already place one imaginary strike against the applicant. With resources like LinkedIn, company websites, and the job listing itself, it isn’t that difficult to find the name of the contact for a position. Show off your research skills by searching the company’s website or social media outlets for the manager who would oversee your role. And if you can’t pinpoint the proper manager, chances are you will be able to find the head of HR for the company. If you have exhausted your resources and can’t find any appropriate contacts, we recommend a different approach than those mentioned above—try “Dear [insert company]’s hiring team” to make it a little more personal.

Mistake No. 3: Failing to Connect the Dots

One big mistake with cover letters is failing to actually demonstrate why you are a fit for the role. You can drone on about your experience and interest in the position, but if you don’t actually explain how your past experience and interests connect you to the role, the hiring manager may toss your application aside. That doesn’t mean you need to be a perfect fit for every job to which you apply—few people actually are. It means that you need to consider what makes you right for the role and explain that in a concise, yet engaging way. Perhaps you have had prior work experience in a different industry, but the actual work is similar—explain that. Or perhaps you’ve had a lifelong passion for this area, fueled by volunteer work and internships—describe this experience and how it has prepared you for this role. The hiring manager should not have to piece together why you are meant for this role; make it easy for them.

Mistake No. 4: Lacking Substantiation

Are you a self-starter with impeccable time management skills, a go-getter attitude, and aspirations to work with a dynamic team? Great! Now what does all of that even mean? Using powerful adjectives can be effective if you can back them up with examples. Also, using too many descriptors will make your letter sound like an ad, rather than a presentation of who you are and why you belong on the team. Instead of a vague description, make sure that every word in your cover letter has meaning, and explain how they apply to your prior experience.. Also, make sure the descriptors you choose are actually important for the role. (See above.) For example, instead of merely saying “I am a team player,” say “I am excited about the company’s collaborative approach to projects—I have developed an appreciation for team work through my experience at [X company], where we

Mistake No. 5: Being careless.

You were waiting for this one, right? And maybe you’re rolling your eyes at me because who would submit a cover letter with spelling and grammar mistakes? Plenty. Of. People. Look, it's human to make mistakes. We all do it. And when you are pumping out job applications, you are bound to have an error somewhere. But that is why you should take a step back and ask someone else to review your cover letter (and resume) and then double, triple, quadruple check it yourself. You can never be too careful when it comes to a job application. Hiring managers will discard applications with mistakes. And I am not just talking about spelling and grammar mistakes. You should also check to make sure the company is listed correctly, the address is right, your own contact information is correct, that you have attached the proper materials, etc. If you can’t cover the basics of applying, how can an employer trust you to do the job?

The job application process is arduous and stressful, but if you avoid these above mistakes you’ll be one step ahead of the competition. Happy job hunting!

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