10 Simple Ways to Screw Up Your Cover Letter

Grammar Mistakes

Cover letters are often your first mode of contact with an employer, so obviously you want them to be perfect. And, as in everything else, you get to perfect by sweating the details.

Sometimes it’s a simple thing that can throw a cover letter off-track. With that in mind, we present this list of mistakes that can sink your chances before you even get started.

  • Generic Salutation: Don’t even bother sending a cover letter if it starts with “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir.” If you can’t find the name of the hiring manager, insert the title of the person you’d report to, or replace the salutation with a subject line. Another option is to weave the company’s name into the salutation: “Dear Members of the Hiring Team at ABC Company.”
  • Typos and Grammatical Errors: This is basic.These kinds of errors ruin your credibility in terms of communication skills and attention to detail. Don’t rely on spell check—proofread!
  • Boilerplate Material: A bland or generic letter won’t impress anyone since it conveys a lack of interest. Distinguish yourself by customizing your cover letter toward the company, the manager’s needs and the job. Also, don’t rehash the information in your résumé. Make your case by using the cover letter’s open format to delve into one or two relevant projects.
  • Underselling Yourself: A cover letter’s sole purpose is to get you an interview. If your letter doesn’t clearly and succinctly state why you’re qualified and why the company should hire you—rewrite it. Don’t forget to include power verbs, adjectives, facts, data, examples and accomplishments. In other words, don’t say you’re a great coder. Let the facts do the talking.
  • Omitting Your Contact Information: Don’t make the hiring manager track you down. Display your contact information on every item you submit during the hiring process.
  • Ignoring Your Audience: This is your chance to have a private conversation with the hiring manager. Speak directly to him or her in your letter, using an appropriate tone and style, based on your research. For instance, you can be less formal if you’re applying for a position at a bleeding edge startup, but you’d better tone it down if you’re pursuing a job at a conservative bank or insurance company.
  • Not Following Directions: Did the posting say to include the job number or the job title in the subject line? Are you supposed to answer a specific question or mention when you’re available to take a coding test? Employers sometimes include instructions to see if you can follow them.
  • Submitting a Novel: Unless you’re applying for an executive positon, your cover letter should fit on a single page. As a rule of thumb, it shouldn’t exceed four paragraphs—one for the opening, one for the summary and the other two to explain your qualifications and cite examples that match the employer’s needs.
  • Failing to Close: Your cover letter should include a call to action. For instance: “As you can see, my experience in harnessing the power of Big Data would enable me to step into the role at XYZ Company and hit the ground running. I’m available for an interview next week, and you can reach me at 000.555.1212. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll give you a call on Thursday. I’m looking forward to meeting you and discussing your Big Data initiatives.
  • Forgetting to Synch Up: Great! Your cover letter did its job. The hiring manager is intrigued and wants to review the coding samples, blog and open source projects you referenced. So where are they? Include hyperlinks to sites and online sources that validate the experience and achievements you described in your cover letter.

One more thing to mention: Submitting your résumé without a cover letter isn’t a minor mistake. It’s the biggest mistake of all.

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4 Responses to “10 Simple Ways to Screw Up Your Cover Letter”

  1. Unca Alby

    Sounds like good advice overall, except for the first one. Most of the jobs posted on Dice DO NOT specify who you’re supposed to be contacting. But putting in the company’s name ought to be a good enough substitute.

  2. Unca Alby

    I must also say, I’m very happy to see Dice publishing material aimed at JOB SEEKERS again.

    I was really getting sick of all the articles targeted at HIRING COMPANIES.

    E.g., “How to hire smart”, “How to fire smart”, “How to manage smart”, and of course, the perpetual whining about how terribly hard it is to find qualified prospects.

  3. Loresh Persad

    Check out my cover letter that worked and will work to get the right information to the reader.

    To whom it may concern,
    My name is Loresh Persad, with an alias of, Tommy and no, I am not using Tommy
    due to the complexity of my name. It just stuck with me since I was born. I have
    been a Programmer for several years which gave me the ability to develop complex
    systems based on business requirements. My systems always meet and exceed my
    company’s expectations and I plan to keep this attribute to myself a static virtue. I
    am however dynamic with regards to my ability to decipher grossly large logical
    design, not written by myself, in order to delineate current and potential bugs. I
    believe that I would be a good fit to your company as well as any company that is
    looking to pursue an individual with the capabilities of executing multifaceted tasks
    by not only writing clean, organized and logical code but also has the zeal to excel
    and thinks performance is a key to growth and prosperity within a company. If this
    sounds like an individual that would be a fit for your company then you have struck
    gold, because I am this individual and some. As you can read, I can go on talking
    about myself but I would much prefer you giving me a call in order for us to discuss
    our future together.
    I look forward to hearing from your company.
    Thank you
    Loresh Tommy Persad

  4. It’s always great to find out the latest bullet points that HR believes as good criteria for picking a good hire. I wonder what they’ll decide as on as the best guidelines for helping them find good recruits next month. I don’t think it’s something predictable so probably a survey of what they all feel like should be taken and the results of the survey can be the new way to prove you’re a good fit for the job.