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by Cathy Vandewater | July 10, 2012


Remember that really embarrassing typo in that cover letter you wrote one time?

Get ready to feel better about it.

In a serious case of a picture saying a thousand words about a person, "Vanessa" applied to an administrative assistant position at York University—and accidentally attached a crazy-eyed photo of the National Treasure star she'd saved instead of her resume.

Frankly, if I were doing the hiring, Vanessa would have the job. Anyone saving images of Nicolas Cage looking crazy has to have a terrific sense of humor. But something tells me she didn't get it.

How did this happen you, might ask? As Vanessa herself writes on her Tumblr, her CV was saved as "a zip file titled with a bunch of numbers like the JPG I accidentally attached…" Whoops.

It's an extreme example, but an easy mistake. Luckily, there are a few easy checks you can do to avoid her mistake, or similar ones—like typos, for example.

1. Email it to yourself

Every notice how typos don't seem to show up until after you hit send? Catch that double "the": send it to yourself first, then read it with fresh eyes. The new perspective might help you catch a few small errors—including ones you might not be anticipating, like the way your name appears to recipients in the "from" column, or reformatting.

2. Write a checklist

Keeping a little word pad open of items to check on can be very helpful in avoiding mistakes in cover letters. You can draft your own, but here are a few common snag points to get you started:

-The spelling of your contact's name
-The correct company's name (especially important if you copy and pasted parts of an old cover letter)
-Addressing concerns/requirements of job description (ie. noting your salary requirements if they're asked for, or mentioning the mandatory amount of experience or education)
-Proper resume attached (you should have the most up to date version you have tailored specifically for this job)
-All additional materials attached (work samples, letters of recommendation, and pictures of Nicolas Cage by request only)

3. Use spell check—and "Ctrl F"

If your email account doesn't do spell check, copy and paste your cover letter into a word document to find typos. For words that get highlighted as misspelled when they're actually correct (such as a company, software titles, or surnames) type the correct version of the word into a search to make sure it's appearing correctly in every case it's used.

4. Read it out loud

This is a great way to catch misused words that spell check won't ("hear" when you mean "here," for example), because it forces you to slow your reading role. But more importantly, it will help you get a feel for your tone and flow. Maybe you'll find sentences go on too long, or catch some run ons. You might also notice you're starting every sentence with an "I." Let your ear be your guide.

5. Organize your job materials

"Cage-gate" as some websites are already calling it, could have been avoided had Vanessa saved and labeled her resumes and cover letters properly.

If you've got several versions of your resume, create different folders for them by industry, or job title (whichever varies the most). Then, clearly label them. "2012 Work Samples" or "VH Cover Letter" will clue both you and your prospective employer in to what they're about to open.

6. Take a look at it from afar

This is less about avoiding "mistakes" per se, and more about making a positive first impression. Step back from your computer and look at your cover letter. What kind of shapes are you seeing? Big blobs of text? Or random looking, one-sentence paragraphs?

Are you intimidated, or overwhelmed?

When your intended recipient opens your email, the size, shape, and overall look of the text will be their first sense of you. So make it inviting! Try to keep paragraphs to three sentences or less, with the whole letter under four paragraphs altogether. Use a clear, easy to read font, and a clean signature block.

The easier it looks to read, the more likely your cover letter will get the time it deserves.

Of course, you could always attract a few glances with a Nic Cage photo, but we don't recommend it.

--Cathy Vandewater,

Read more:
Accidental Nic Cage Resume Is Amazing (Huffington Post)
Attracting Recruiters: Lessons from Sun Tzu
How to Stay Motivated for an After-Hours Job Search


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