In my last post I wrote about resume pet peeves, and I promised that in today’s post I would write about cover letter pet peeves. This list has been developed over the years as I have taught (or attempted to teach) hundreds of students how to write letters of application (cover letters).
- If you’re writing show-opening voice-overs for a superhero series on The CW, “My name is Oliver Queen” is (apparently) an acceptable way to begin. If you’re a nine-year old writing a fan letter to your favorite comic book’s letter page, “My name is Jimmy Smith” is—undoubtedly—how you’ll start out. But, if you’re writing a customized cover letter to accompany a resume for an adult job in an adult world, the reader is going to know that your name belongs at the bottom of the page and will seriously doubt if you’ve ever written a professional letter before. “My name is . . .” gets your resume perilously close to nestling among the other rejects in the round file in just a few short words!!
- The letter has to look like a business letter. There’s a standard format, preferably a block format, with all elements flush left, no indentation of paragraphs, and blank lines between paragraphs. Your address goes at the top of the page, then the date, then the name and address of the individual you are writing to, then the greeting (which ends with a colon, not a comma), then three or four paragraphs of information, then the closing, and finally your name. You should put one blank line between each element, with a few extra lines between the date and the inside address and between the closing and your printed name (with the last gap being the space for your signature.
- The reader needs to know how to contact you if he or she is interested in calling you for an interview. You must give your current, active email address, phone number, and snail-mail mailing address.
- The letter needs to be addressed to an individual, if at all possible. If you can’t tell the person’s gender from their name (e.g., Chris Smith, Pat Jones), write out the name in the greeting (e.g., Dear Chris Smith). If you don’t know the person’s name, you can write “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Personnel Director.” Another option is to eliminate the greeting and start with the title of the job you are applying for in its place, for example, “Re: Junior Account Executive” or “Re: Job Posting 56789.”
- There cannot be any misspelled words. If you can’t take the time to proofread the letter of application, why would the employer think that you will pay attention to the detail required for the job? In just this past week I read a letter which was addressed to the Personnel Manger and another applying for a job as a Personal Assistance. In neither case would the reader have continued reading beyond the opening lines of the letter.
- It must fit on one page. Your letter has to be clear and concise.
- It must provide evidence to support any claims you make. If you say you’re expert at working with InDesign, tell the reader what you’ve produced using InDesign. If you say you’re a team player, explain what you’ve done that demonstrates that your collaborative abilities.
- The letter must match the description of the job. There will seldom, if ever, be a situation where it is a good idea to use the same letter for two job openings, although over time you should be able to develop a series of letters that can be adapted to different positions. If the job requires that you know a particular software, be sure to mention it in your letter. If the job requires that you have specific skills and experience, demonstrate what you have done to gain those skills and attain that experience.
You can find more advice about how to write cover letters in my book’s Tip 39 Learn to write good cover letters and Appendix J: Creating a letter of application (cover letter).