7 Deadly Sins of Cover Letter Writing

Nearly every time I receive a cover letter for editing, the job candidate warns me ahead of time that their letter will need a lot of work.  In as much as job seekers do not like to write resumes, they almost always detest having to write a cover letter.  Before you send your next cover letter, make sure you are not committing one of these seven deadly sins with your letter. 

  1. To Whom It May Concern:  This outdated introduction is number one on my list of the 7 Deadly Sins of Cover Letters. To Whom It May Concern or Dear Sir screams laziness.  With the Internet, today’s job seekers CAN find the name of the HR professional or hiring manager with just a bit of effort.   
  2. Start the letter with the word “I”:   Yes, YOU are the one looking for a job, but the reader needs help and isn’t all that concerned with your wants and needs.  By starting your letter with the word “I”, you are immediately making your letter about you.  Basic marketing and advertising will teach you to focus your campaign on the customer.   
  3. Groupie without skills:  It is no secret to those who know me that I love Cinderella, but Disney is not going to interview or hire me because I talk about this beloved Disney Princess.  My passion for the organization and its business and customer is important, but I have to first prove I can do the job at hand.  
  4. I feel, I think, I believe:   If you aren’t confident in your ability, then how can you expect a company to be confident in you?  Show your confidence!    Highlight your contributions and the value you have brought to past experience.  
  5. I am seeking experience:  What you want isn’t all that important to the reader.  Have you ever heard the statement that you will only get what you want in life after you give someone else what they want first?  What you want will be the result of giving someone else what they want. Find out what they need…..and be the solution. 
  6. Form letter as opposed to tailored to specific company:  Form cover letters can be spotted a mile away.  Canned letters are boring especially those that only reiterate what is clearly stated on the resume.  Cover letters need to be tailored for each company and position.   
  7. MISTAKES:  I’m not only talking about typographical errors here.  Here are some common yet deadly mistakes in cover letter writing:
    1. a.      Addressing your letter to one company yet targeting another in the body of the letter.
    2. b.      Misspelling the company or contact name
    3. c.       Forgetting your phone number or email

Cover letters focus on the value you can bring to a future employer.  You are the product or service that provides the solution to what business needs.  By avoiding these 7 deadly sins, you will find the message of your cover letters will be more customer focused.  Now, go and sin no more.

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9 thoughts on “7 Deadly Sins of Cover Letter Writing

  1. Kirk Baumann

    Cindy,

    Fantastic post! “To Whom It May Concern” doesn’t cut it anymore. If you want to make an impression, do some research, check LinkedIn. Try Twitter – if they’re into social recruiting, you can probably find the recruiter’s name that way.

    I also like the fact that you’ve brought up the importance of knowing the company’s issues or challenges. Position yourself as the SOLUTION! Tell them how you can help THEM.

    Thanks for sharing this – I’m definitely passing it on to my network. Keep up the great work!

    Kirk Baumann
    http://www.campus-to-career.com

    Reply
  2. Confused Job Seeker

    Regarding #2, how does an ideal cover letter begin? I don’t think the pronoun “I” automatically connotes self-absorption, and often times it’s a good way to avoid passive voice construction.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. cindybillington

      You can begin your cover letter many different ways:
      With three years experience in…
      While reading your position description…
      Joe Smith recommended I contact you……

      You will see letters that begin with the word “I”, and you will see example letters in some of the leading cover letter books use the same. However, I find that when letters begin with “I”, they often focus only on “I”.

      In marketing, you want to grabe the reader’s attention immediately. You do that by addressing the need immediately. When you begin a letter with the word “I”, you are addressing you and not the customer.

      Reply
  3. Dave

    Cindy,
    I enjoy reading everything you put out for public consumption, I get something important for me from your postings and I must “THANK YOU”.
    In the defense contracting world it gets harder and harder to nail down the “contact info” for the recruiter or hiring manager even after several phone calls to either folks I know in the company or just dialing into the HR department as a “excuse me young lady but……”. Many companies seem to want to wall off the company employees from the recruiter/staffing folks as to keep things “sanitized”. I agree 100% with Kirk, it’s about the effort but I have been sidetracked a few times with my attempts. Is this also “normal” in the civilian sector??
    Thanks!
    R/ Dave

    Reply
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