Four cover letter red flags to avoid

Your cover letter is more important to the success of your job applications than ever right now. Last week, we reported on a survey of employers that revealed that even those hiring professionals who don’t usually read cover letters are giving them careful consideration during the pandemic.

Good writing and effective communications are essential to more and more roles as teams collaborate, and business is being conducted remotely. So, with your job prospects potentially riding on the efficacy of your cover letter, it’s imperative to get it right.

Here are four common red flags to avoid that employers see in cover letters – and how to avoid them.

To whom it may concern

Don’t open your cover letter with the generic and outdated “to whom it may concern.” It is always best to address your letter to the actual hiring manager. Scour the job posting, the company’s website, or their LinkedIn page to see if you can determine who the decision-maker is for the position you want.

If you cannot find the name of the hiring manager anywhere, then you’ll have to improvise. They can’t hold it against you for not using a specific name if that name is not available, even after a diligent search for it.

You shouldn’t use antiquated expressions such as “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam.”

Try something more modern and friendly such as “Dear Acme,” “Hello Communications Director,” or “Hi Sales Hiring Committee.”

Check out this article for more phrases to remove from your cover letter.

Not customized

Your cover letter should indicate the job you are applying for and your key selling point for the role. A generic form letter that could be sent to any and all jobs you apply for will turn off employers.

Just as with your resume, you should customize your cover letter specifically for each job you apply to. Mention why you want the job or why you’d be an excellent fit for it. Adding a career highlight or anecdote that personalizes your application will impress employers more than the generic “I want the job, please see my resume” letter.

Typos and spelling mistakes

With employers taking more time to scrutinize your correspondence, proofread your resume and cover letter to ensure they are error-free. If good writing and effective online communications are essential to the hiring manager, typos and spelling mistakes in your application can be a serious red flag.

It raises the question of how many mistakes you might make on the job if you can’t even produce an error-free cover letter when you are most trying to make a positive impression. Here is how to proofread like a professional editor.

Failing to follow instructions

Job postings often contain the exact details of how the employer would like you to apply for their job. These are not merely suggestions, and failing to follow them will likely sink your chances of being interviewed for the position.

If the job ad asks applicants to include a reference number in the subject line of your email or refer to it in your cover letter, then be sure that you do.

If the job posting requests a Word document resume, don’t send a PDF or a link to an online profile. If the employer asks for samples of your work or specific pieces of information from you, provide them.

To help with their filing, some employers ask for a resume and cover letter in a single document rather than two separate attachments. Be sure to read the job posting carefully and follow the exact instructions for applying. Failing to do so can give the impression that you can’t pay attention to instructions or that if you can, you simply don’t care enough to. (Either way, not a great hire.)

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