Education

Seven things not to do in a cover letter


Resume writing has become so precise that it's almost a science. With all the how-to books and articles devoted to building a resume that gets noticed, its' fairly easy to build a good resume if you've got the credentials to back it up.

The thing I've always had trouble with is the cover letter. And of course, the cover letter is often the feature most touted by career advisors. This is where, they say, the prospective employer really "meets" you.

Tag and Catherine Goulet, authors of "Dream Careers: How to Quickly Break Into a Fab Job!," are also co-CEOs of FabJob.com, which touts itself as the "world's leading publisher of information about dream careers." If you can ignore the use of the nauseating word "fab" and negotiate the list of dream careers the site lists, you can find some good, practical advice for finding any kind of job. (If you look carefully, wedged between Travel Writer and Wedding Planner, you'll find Web Developer. There could be more tech careers in there, but that's all I found in a precursory glance.)

Here's a good list of what the women say are the seven things you don't want to do in a cover letter. They are:

Don't address the letter "Dear Sirs." The person reading your letter may be a woman who won't be impressed with this salutation. Instead, find out the name of the person who will be reviewing your résumé by contacting the company's human resources department, or address your letter "Attention: Human Resources Department" if they won't give you a name. 2. Don't forget to say which position you are applying for. Many companies advertise more than one position at a time. 3. Don't send a cover letter that has not been thoroughly proofread. Typographical and grammatical errors (such as confusing "you're" with "your") create a poor impression. 4. Don't focus on what you want. In this case the applicant said he thought he'd enjoy the job and get experience. Focus instead on what value you can bring to the employer, such as increasing revenues or cutting costs. 5. Don't send a generic letter. You can make a much better impression by mentioning the company name and doing a little research so you can say something flattering about the company. You can learn what companies pride themselves on, including their products and achievements, by checking their Web sites. 6. Don't appear desperate. Avoid comments such as "I've already sent out a bunch of résumés without much luck." Employers may wonder if there's a good reason why no one else has hired you. 7. Don't challenge them to hire you. Employers will be turned off if you say something like "It's your loss if you don't hire me." Instead, show them, with examples of your accomplishments, why you would be an asset to their company.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

27 comments
endlr
endlr

My old boss used to show me the resumes he would receive. Few were well done and some were beyond belief.

rfulbrig
rfulbrig

Proofreading is good advice. It avoids things like: Here???s a good list of what the women say are the seven things you don???t want to do in a cover letters. instead of: Here???s a good list of what the women say are the seven things you don???t want to do in a cover letter.

highlander718
highlander718

At least these are cited from somebody else's "how to not forget to breath air" book (apparently, THERE ARE better or worse ways to breath, so I will have to find a better mock comparison). And there are people making money out of these books ??? So really ? Don't challege the hiring part ? don't start with dear Sirs ? Don't use generic letters ? Mention the position you are applying for ???? For Heavens sake do we really have people in IT (so with at least some sort of a decent IQ and education) that do some other way ?

dmennie
dmennie

Looks like a heard of self-important human resouces types are posting here. They'll all end up hiring the best cover letter writer regardless of the actual job requirements. Don't these folks read DILBERT? Here the HR department ego is stripped bare for all to see. And its not a pretty sight. But what else do you expect? These folks have only one mission in life: NOT HIRING ANYONE WHO APPLIES FOR THE JOB! Go around, go under, go over, or obliterate. BUT DO NOT DEAL WITH HR! Your sanity depends on it!

coyotech
coyotech

Experienced people make these mistakes. Especially the part about saying something good about the company and telling them how you would be good for them. The job title gets forgotten, too. I've read some that are too colorless and generic, and some that say too much. Probably I've done both, myself. It doesn't hurt to be reminded of these things.

LouCed
LouCed

Seems common sence, but you should see some of the resumes and cover letters I review. Jeez, some folks need the instructions on the back of the card that says: Inhale (over)...

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

I always think of it like this: When you go to a professional sporting match (e.g. football), you're watching people with many - 20 and more - years of experience in their game. But on the sidelines during a match they drill [b]the basics[/b] - passing, tackling, dribbling, catching - whatever, according to the nature of their game. I always relate this to my teams, who think that after 6 months on the job they are far too advanced to waste time on the basics. In this case, making sure someone - who may be quite technically brilliant - is aware of some basic issues in communication must be a good thing. But I can see your point that you would think that these are common sense. I guess the basics are just that. edit out of control boldness

ssharkins
ssharkins

If you already know better, you're well ahead of the masses. The article's right on -- folks spend a lot of time on the resume and totally ignore the cover letter's impact! As a writer, I send out "query" letters -- "Hey, I've written this terrific book on blah, blah..." Truth is, a query letter that says that goes straight in the trash. A cover letter is a first impression -- don't waste it. It's nice if your resume helps you stand out from the ground, but that won't help you if the reviewer never reads your resume because your cover letter sinks!

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

I see the Dear Sir all the time. Most of the time the cover letters have the word "breathe" spelled right though. ; )

andrew
andrew

I heard the stampeding hooves and I knew the HERD was approaching. HR's mission is to interpret the requirements of the hiring department, then go and find a suitable candidate. Not an easy feat. Give them good information and get a good candidate. They have to disqualify candidates somehow. If typos don't matter, tell them so and they'll consider a wider raft of candidates many of whom who will then be disqualified using some other criteria, perhaps a 'better' criteria. Personally, I'd like my IT staff to have basic literacy skills, including spelling. They do have college degrees, yes? Did they not bother to learn to spell during their 16 years of schooling since kinder?

JamesRL
JamesRL

For the record, I am not, have never been, and never want to be in HR. But I am a manager and I hire people. And I work with my HR department to do that. If you call me out of the blue and I am hiring, I will talk to you, briefly at least. But then I will refer you to HR. Thats the process, for better or worse. I spend more time on the resumes than HR does. I also look at cover letters. A good cover letter tells me they have read the job description and they know what I want, and they can match up their skills to my needs. Would I hire based on a cover letter? Of course not. Would I interview based on a cover letter? Well honestly its part of the package that I review before I decide who to interview so it can influence me. I have had a circumstance where someone's excellent targeted cover letter got my attention, and I interviewed the candidate even though his resume was borderline. If you run a job seach and you get half a dozen applicants, the cover letter probably doesn't mean much (unless you screw it up so much that it disqualifies you). But when you get a hundred resumes and letters, it might just be the difference between getting a rejection and getting an interview. I do remember when I was job hunting sitting down with a friend who was a manager at a government department. She helped me craft a cover letter which fit the type the other government departments wanted. I did get an interview (6 people interviewed out of 500 applications) and I almost got the job. There are some times when you can go around HR and others when you can't. Obliterate? Don't make me laugh. James

andrew
andrew

I know everyone hates a nit-picker, but here's a response with a typo - from the person whose job it is to read covering letters and resumes. It tickled my fancy. (By the way, it's common sense - with an 's', not a 'c,'in the word sense) P.S. TR's 'Body of reply' dialog box would have flagged sence as a typo - using a red underline.

Tig2
Tig2

Don't make the mistake of assuming that because you are emailing your resume you can skimp on the cover letter. Your subject line should include the job title, reference number if any and the words "Resume Attached". Your cover email will be scrutinized just as carefully as a paper letter would be.

JimTheEngineer
JimTheEngineer

Your article is a good reminder of what to watch out for in a cover letter. I have assumed that I am part of a dying breed that notices - and winces - at typos, but it's good to hear that others care, too! Um... "With all the how-to books and articles devoted to building a resume that gets noticed, its’ fairly easy to build a good resume if you’ve got the credentials to back it up." ...does have a problem: "its'" You do write great articles! - Jim

Tig2
Tig2

When I see a cover letter that screams that it was mass produced, or teeming with typos, I generally don't bother with the resume. And having been a woman all my life, I don't appreciate the "Dear Sir" or even "Dear Sir or Ma'am." "Dear Hiring Manager" is only marginally better. The one that I like is "Good Day". But some of the others, no matter how much they seem like no-brainers, are things that I see ignored all the time. Sentences like "I'm perfect for this job" immediately make me ask "Why?" If I can't answer that question within the body of the cover letter, that resume is out too. And "You'll regret it if you don't hire me" gets "No I won't" as I am tossing the resume in the bin. The thing that anyone needs to keep at the forefront of their thinking is that the person responsible for hiring will see way more resumes than they need to for any role. Standing out in that crowd takes a little bit extra. Excellent article!

Project_20
Project_20

Surprised at the the overall tone of these posts. Some folks got pretty testy about this topic. Guess it's understandable: after all, changing jobs (or trying to), getting fired or being unemployed are pretty stressful life events. Yet, I found somewhere in all those posts some good advice, from both sides of the 'hiring table.' Now I have to go back and re-read all these to pick out and think about the best advice. Thanks (I think), everyone!

ssharkins
ssharkins

I'm not in HR either and I don't hire people. I'm a freelance consultant -- first impressions really do matter. I'm reading the letter from the hiree point of view, not the hirer. Anything that gives you an edge over the stack of resumes on the hirer's desk is a good thing. A rant against unfair hiring practices might make feel good, but won't get you the job you want.

guy.omalley
guy.omalley

Mozilla Firefox has a dictionary add-on that checks spelling in a text box much like Microsoft Office, but I am not aware of a similar function in Internet Explorer

JamesRL
JamesRL

Doesn't work for me, and I am sure it doesn't work for Oz.... Are you sure this isn't browser specific?\ James

ElectraGlideInBlue
ElectraGlideInBlue

Your three day walk for your gender specific cancer doesn't give you any more credibility. Soon, maybe now, no one will care where you went to school or how far you walked for any disease. Trust me, somebody else will walk one more mile than you, and you will be a memory. If this sounds negative or harsh, grow a thick skin. Life isn't fair. Take off the rose colored glasses and realize human beings without access to a spell checker or a good email client have alot to offer. "Old guys know stuff". (Listen, really listen like you woke up in the middle of the night because you heard something...dead quiet...only your heart beating and rain on the roof. But listen, then you will understand...there is still hope that in your life you will learn to look past the surface and see the true intrinsic value of experience.) You can only learn from that. There is nowhere to go, and nothing to do except to be of service.

ElectraGlideInBlue
ElectraGlideInBlue

It's (sp?) interesting to see the perspectives from the Hiring side of the desk today. After 30 years in this business, the majority on that Hiring side, I can tell you the desk will turn on you. Then see how perfect, smart and "godlike" you and your "opinions" are. That which you use to qualify and determine WHO "goes in the trash" will cause you many sleepless nights someday, as you look back on your career and realize you passed by many qualified applicants in your brash, young arrogance. Some of my best hires couldn't spell or write a cover letter (or Resume for that matter) but had qualities that made them valuable members of the team. Go write a book while you still seem smart Dear (insert today's salutation) for someday, some young smart MBA with all the answers will throw your Resume in the trash and you will wonder why. Good Day (my ass).

dhickman
dhickman

Besides the obvious " its' " error, how could a person writing about avoiding grammatical and spelling errors blatantly misspell "r?sum?"? It is not spelled "resume", nor "resum?", nor "r?sume". More care and attention is expected from professional writes then general bloggers and such. Sad.

Tig2
Tig2

You have not read and understood what I said. If someone's resume and cover are full of typos, I will can it. I am not alone in this thinking. ONE typo will not get it there. A bunch will. That isn't a power trip. That is someone looking for a level of professionalism. If you don't get that, I don't care to hire you.

JamesRL
JamesRL

If you don't care enough to proof your work when a job/career is at stake, then what would motivate you to care about your work once we hire you. I make spelling mistakes(usually typos) in posts here all the time. But it isn't a cover letter/resume. Besides in my defense my internet browser doesn't have a spell checker, and what do you know, my word processor does. I have one job (usually) to offer and I have dozens of qualified people to offer it to. I might overlook a typo for a candidate who is outstanding in other ways, but if I have two equally qualified applicants, one who didn't write a targeted cover letter and the generic letter they have has typos, and another where I have a good specific cover letter tailored to my job opening that shows they have good communications and writing skills, which one do you think I should interview? James

Bizzo
Bizzo

If you're going to hire someone to do a good job, then why spend time on someone that hasn't even bothered to spell-check a covering letter? It's a two minute job to proof read a letter and get rid of spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes and typos. If they send a letter out like that then it shows that they didn't check their own work, which to me implies that they probably wouldn't do the same in their job.

philippe
philippe

People are just people, one may be the best in his/her job and just not be able to sell him/herself. It would be time that this whole old school resume/cover letter thing is replaced by something more to the point like exams and on the job evaluation, and, if you please, a truly transparent process. But I suppose there's nothing like the thrill of deciding someone's fate on a typo.

JamesRL
JamesRL

....is that you have read the job description, carefully considered it, learned a little bit my company and its business, and decided to apply because you have something of value to offer me. You would be suprised how many form letter covers I get. Nothing says you don't really care like a generic cover letter. James