We’ve all had the experience of applying for a job online — you submit your resume and cover letter into the dark abyss of some online hiring portal and, aside from an auto-generated “Thanks for applying!” email, you never hear another peep from the employer.
“They got like a million applications, don’t take it personally,” your friends tell you. Yes, it’s true, they probably did get a million applications, which is why there are so many articles out there about how to write cover letters and craft visually appealing, action-oriented resumes to make yours stand out.
But too often there are tiny, easily correctable mistakes you’re making in your cover letter that damn you to the “no” pile before anyone even gets to your credentials. We spoke with dozens of executives and hiring managers in industries including tech, media, advertising and academia to get their biggest cover letter pet peeves.
You’ve got typos or grammatical errors (especially true if the job involves writing in any capacity)
Spell check. Grammar check. Read the letter out loud. You’d be surprised how many errors you catch that way. “For some positions, a single typo is enough to get you to the ‘No, thank you’ pile,” says Ruth Ann Harnisch, President of The Harnisch Foundation.
You use an archaic or sexist greeting (e.g., “Dear Sir”)
It’s 2017. If you’re inclined to write “Dear Sir” or even “Dear Sir or Madam,” we suggest you reconsider. The likelihood that the person on the other end of your letter is not a “sir” is high; the likelihood that they are neither a sir nor a madam, or that they object to being addressed as such, is quite possible as well.
“To Whom It May Concern” works; “To the hiring team at [Company Name]” is good. If you can find out the name of the HR representative or hiring manager, all the better — “Dear Ms. Kirsch and the hiring staff at Lifehacker” shows you did your homework.
You use too casual a greeting (e.g. “Hi,” “Hi there,” “Hey!)
Just as you don’t want to go too formal, neither do you want to open your letter with the equivalent of showing up for an interview in a dirty sweatsuit. This is not a Tinder message, it’s a cover letter for a job you ostensibly want.
You have no greeting at all
There are human beings reading these letters (until the robots take all our jobs), so take every opportunity you get to address those humans. A letter with no greeting looks like a personal statement on the Common App — which is to say, a boring, pro forma exercise that nobody wants to read.
You don’t mention the name of the company you’re applying to
This one came up a lot. Personalise your cover letters! Yes, it takes a few moments extra to show that you actually took a look at the company and the position for which you’re applying, but it’s essential. “I am writing to apply for the [position] at [Company]. Then say specifically why you are quite perfect for said position and you’re dying to work for said company.
“Cover letters that generically refer to “the position” and never mention the company by name and seem like they could have been copy pasted and sent to 1000 random companies” are nonstarters, says Nisha Chittal, Engagement Editor at Racked. “Show me why you care about my company and this specific position.”
One of the factors that managers look at when hiring is how much you want the job. You need not beg, but there’s absolutely nothing gained by seeming completely uninterested in the position.
You have clearly just swapped in the name of the company you’re applying to for the name of another company but otherwise the letter is impersonal
See above. They’re on to your tricks.
You don’t seem enthusiastic about working for this particular company
Your cover letter is the first thing hiring managers see when they’re evaluating your candidacy. Do not play hard to get! Do not appear not to care about getting the job. You want it! You can say so! Unlike, say, asking someone to the winter formal, it’s not a terrible thing to seem enthusiastic about wanting this.
You don’t translate your current experience to the job for which you’re applying
“If you’re applying for an editorial position, but all of your past experience is in marketing, and you don’t explain why you’re qualified to make the transition in a cover letter, that’s a pretty clear no,” says Adrian Granzella Larsen, Editor-at-Large for The Muse. If the experience on your resume does not appear to have anything to do with the position, the cover letter is the place to explain this.
You assume something untrue about the company (e.g., “I know your company has had a rough year and is going through a reorganization…”)
Show that you have done your research, but be careful of parroting something you read about the company in the trades that may or not be true — especially if it’s not especially flattering.
You speak ill of your current or former employers (this goes for interviews as well)
Even though you’re dying to get out of your current job, save the gripes. The new company doesn’t care about your old job woes; they want someone to join their team who has a positive attitude.
You get the wrong company name wrong, or you misspell it
Yeah, you’re applying to every job Indeed spit out that remotely fits your parameters, but if you say “I think I’d be a great asset at the Ford Motor Company” and you’re applying to work at Tesla, the Tesla HR person is already moving on to the next candidate.
You misspell the name of the hiring manager
Better to use a generic “To Whom It May Concern” than to eff this up.
You say this job would be a “great stepping stone” for you
Just because it’s true doesn’t mean you say so. Anything that telegraphs “I am not in it for the long haul,” “I am too good for you” or “This job is way beneath me and I’m only applying for the benefits” is a bad idea.
What cover letter mistakes have you observed? What cover letter crimes have you committed? Tell us in the comments.
This article has been updated since its original publication.