When unemployment is high, competition for the few positions available gets fierce. This means your application has to be perfect to give you a chance at an interview. Any mistakes on your cover letter could cost you the job. Here are ten of the most common errors to avoid.
Spelling and Grammatical Errors
This is the biggest mistake anyone can make with a job application cover letter. Proofread your letter and ask a friend to do so as well. Take care over the letter.
A simple spelling mistake effectively says to the prospective employer, “I do not care about what I do, and I will be this sloppy or careless in work I will do for you too.” You certainly would not consider employing anyone who said this in an interview, so why should a prospective employer bother to interview you, if you cannot bother to double check what you wrote in your cover letter.
While you want to market your skills and abilities to the prospective employer, starting every single sentence with “I can do…”, “I have done…” etc, is tedious to read and is not effective. You need to add interest to the letter by writing in a way that avoids repetition, and starting every sentence or paragraph the same way.
Try other sentence beginnings, such as, “In my role as xxx, I achieved …” or “My experience in xxx is extensive, or “With 20 years experience in xxx, I will provide your company with …”, or “This role is similar to my position at xxx.”
As well as not starting every sentence with “I” or the same style of beginning, avoid the use of “I” too many times in the letter.
Creative Desktop Publishing
This is a business letter, not a brochure. Avoid using desktop publishing programs such as Microsoft Publisher and adding clip art, effects, or fancy fonts. Choose an accepted generic font like Arial, Times New Roman, or Verdana. Keep sub-headings to a minimum and use a simple bold to accentuate the sub-headings, rather than italics or any other fancy font. The font size should be a visible 12 point.
Making the Letter Too Short
A cover letter is supposed to be a vehicle to explain to prospective employers why you should be employed and how you meet the selection criteria for the position. Simply stating, “Please find my attached CV in application for the position of Managing Director,” will not win you an interview for the job. Make sure you address the selection criteria mentioned in the job advertisement or position description. A cover letter should be one to two pages at the most, properly formatted. Writing concisely is good, but ensure you include enough detail to market yourself to a prospective employer.
The 500 Word Paragraph
Break up your paragraphs. A cover letter should not be one lengthy paragraph with a salutation at the top and a signature at the bottom. Try to address one or two selection criteria that go together in each paragraph. Each sentence should have between eight to 15 words, and each paragraph should contain two to three sentences.
Talking Nonsense or in Strange Language
No-one actually says, “Please find enclosed herewith my CV.” Although the job application is a formal document, use every day language. “My CV is attached for your information,” is fine.
Another common error is trying too hard to sound impressive, and ending up not making sense at all. Re-read your sentences and ensure you have not said something strange, or a sentence that cannot be understood by a normal business person. One teacher wrote the following in a real cover letter, “I am a conduit for mainstream educational formal connections and I work to build an individual’s creative forms.” Huh? Write in every day language to make your letter clear.
Making the Reader Squint
You know that a cover letter should never be more than two pages long, but you have so much to say that you reduce the font down to such a small size to make your letter fit. Instead of reducing the font, write your letter using concise language and use fewer words. A good cover letter should have a wide margin of two or three centimetres on both sides, and will use 12 point size font.
The only place handwriting should appear on the cover letter is your signature. Handwriting a cover letter shows a lack of interest in the position, especially in a technological era where computers are easily accessible. Borrow a computer if you have to but always type or word process your cover letter. It looks more professional. One of the worse mistakes people make is handwriting a couple of sentences on a post it note and sticking it on the resume as if it was a cover letter. Write a proper letter or don’t bother applying for the job.
Not Including All Required Details
Often job applicants forget to include all contact details on the cover letter, or assume that the resume will have these details. However, it is possible for prospective employers to separate cover letters from resumes. Therefore, you need to make sure all the details are included in the cover letter.
Cover letters should start with your contact details including your name, a full address (not a post office box as this makes it look as if you are a transient), email contact and telephone contact numbers. This should appear on the top right hand side of the page. Below this, with a line space in between, the receiver’s contact details including name, position, company name and address should appear on the left hand side of the page.
Leave a space line after the address and then insert the date, spelling out the month in full. Leave another space line before the salutation. You should include the details of the position you are applying for, in case the company is currently recruiting for several jobs. Include a handwritten signature at the bottom of the cover letter.
Justifying Right and Bad Formatting
Justifying text right means that big gaps appear in the cover letter and this makes the letter harder to read. Keep a professional appearance to the cover letter with plenty of ‘white space’. Every paragraph should be separated by a line of white space, as this makes the letter easier to read. You do not want a prospective employer deciding not to interview you, simply because your letter was too hard to read due to bad formatting. Make sure the letter looks professional.
Avoiding these ten common mistakes will help you to write a better cover letter. Proofread and double check what you are sending, before you sign the bottom of the page. Your cover letter is an important facet of the job application process and you need to spend some time and care on writing the cover letter properly.