Warning! Cover Letter No-Nos

Avoid getting the stink-eye in submitting your cover letter.

The hiring process is like the courtship period in a relationship: you eye a nice looking partner (or position) and you then proceed to make the claim that you are the best person to suit their needs. One either ends up with a regular paycheck and benefits, or with heartache and aching loss.

At the heart of that courting period is that statement that will make or break your claim to the keys of the kingdom – the cover letter.

We’ve all been there before–we all have had to break out the thesaurus to make our summer spent pouring coffees seem like an enriching experience that will benefit the bottom of the organization we plan to “work with.” But for every sentence that gets you closer to that elusive offer, there are those few words that’ll take you several steps back.

With that in mind, take heed of the following errors.

Thou shalt not be generic

Kelley School of Business director of emerging technologies, Sarah Smith Robbins, warns against the allure of generic-dom. “Avoid anything that makes your cover letter look like a generic written for no specific job,” she says.

It is often easier, especially after the tenth time looking over a job description, to default to the homogenous letter type that says who you are and what you know. But you have to ask yourself: is that what the company is looking for? Some run of the mill John Doe? Or are they looking for you!

But I don’t want your life story…

In the same vein, you shouldn’t fall into the trap of writing your personal life story in an effort to define yourself to your prospective employers. Sometimes, a little can go too long of a way.

Financial Services and Legal recruitment blogger Louise says it’s better to leave any personal stories for the interview itself where you should deliver a strong answer if you ever got asked a question about your hobbies.

Don’t hold out too much

On the other side of the scale, Louise says you cannot write the bare minimum, i.e. “I attached my resume to this e-mail. Best…”. Be prepared to put down between 200 and 250 words. And they better be original.

This is you delivering your statement of intent, your pick up line in the bar. If somebody you liked was standing looking bored in the pub would you walk and say “’Sup! Drink?” or “Hey, I grew up in so and so, went to grad school here, and want to save dolphins in the future.”

No! you’d walk up, give them a firm hand shake, introduce yourself and let them know aren’t some creep and can be trusted for further conversation.

Don’t come off as ignorant

When you introduce yourself, you of course have to be careful not sound like some stalker who watches the every move of the company. Sarah is adamant that there is a fine to balance between “knowing too much, and knowing too little.”

Do some research and understand the context of your intended position in the company. In doing so, you will know how to tailor-make your cover letter to the position being recruited.

I made some mistakes

Just like any courtship, you don’t want to bring up your mistakes too soon. Would the girl of your dreams like to hear how clingy you were in your last relationship? Nope, and Sarah maintains that all that baggage does not belong in your first impression.

So now that you have some idea of what not to do in your introduction to companies, what do you plan on writing in your next cover letter?

Photos by Unhindered Talent and Jolynntech.

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Siya Africa I spent several years studying politics and journalism in South Africa before working in the media industry there. Whilst taking photographs of Nelson Mandela and writing about celebrities visiting the "Mother Land" I decided to make my way to the States, in 2009, and have been a grad student at IU ever since. All your tweets belong to me (courtesy of Julia Roy). Twitter: @siyaafrica

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5 Responses to “Warning! Cover Letter No-Nos”

  1. John

    Concisely and well put! Some of the tips landed right on point; they will most surely help to capitalize on bringing out the best of your candidacy’s traits in a resume to the employer
    I’ve also been a follower of the cv-heaven.com , and at times they did deliver on-point tips about questions related to resume composition.

    • Siyabonga Africa

      Thanks John. There are a lot of tips and tricks out there. The key is to find what works for you and stick to the script. I hope your job search goes well.

  2. Jay

    If there is a mistake in any cover letter then it’s enough to take away your job opportunity or can make barrier for your new business as well. It’s not new that plan cover letter for your job is essential to lead yo to the success.


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