Covering letters are your first sales pitch to a potential employer. Employers receive hundreds of CVs and covering letters from people who are applying for the job you want. Your goal is to stand out from the other candidates.
· Forgetting to proofread your letter for errors and tone before you send it. Make sure your letter has no spelling, typing, or grammatical errors. Job applicants are frequently deselected because of such mistakes.
· Addressing the letter to the wrong person.
Call the company and find out the name and title of the person to whom you should address your letter. It shows initiative and resourcefulness, and will impress your reader that you figured out a way to address them personally. Use their name and title and don’t try to guess their gender.
· Using someone else’s words.
Make sure that your letter sounds like you, not like something out of a book. Your covering letter, as well as your CV, should be an accurate reflection of your personality. Employers are looking for knowledge, enthusiasm, and focus.
· Betraying your ignorance about the company and the industry.
This is where your research comes in. Don’t go overboard – just make it clear that you didn’t pick this company out of the phone book. You know who they are, what they do, and you have chosen them.
· Being too informal.
Promote yourself as a professional. Your letter should be as close to a business proposal as you can get – not a plea for an interview. What do you offer that is of value? What objectives can you help them achieve?
· Talking too much about yourself.
Downplay ‘I’ and emphasise ‘you’. Try to convert ‘I haves’ into ‘you wants’ for the employer. What can you do for the organisation that will create interest and arouse a desire for an interview with you?
· Being too cocky.
If you meet all the stated requirements for the job, spell this out in your letter – but don’t lay it on too thick. Accentuate the good match between your skills and their needs.
· Lacking focus.
Structure your letter so that each part achieves a particular goal. State the purpose of your letter in your opening paragraph. Keep the letter organised. Decide on the focus of your letter and ensure that all points reinforce the topic.
· Boring presentation.
Draw attention to your skills and attributes by underlining them, bolding them, or indenting them in lists with bullets. You have to be careful with underlining because the line is often printed too close to the word, and reduces its readability. Use these kinds of emphasis sparingly just to make the highlights stand out when the reader gives your letter a quick skim.
· Droning on too long.
Keep it simple and clean – not cluttered. Use no more than seven lines, and preferably five or fewer, per paragraph. Vary the sentence length. None of the sentences should be very long, but you don’t want a staccato stream of very short sentences. One page is the maximum for letters.
· Sending photocopies.
Send original letters. Don’t send copies that look mass-produced. Don’t use typewriters or dot matrix printers and never hand-write your letter.
· Forgetting to include a copy of your CV.
Remember that the one purpose for a covering letter is to get your CV into the hands of the employer and to obtain an interview.
· Enclosing a photo.
Unless you are seeking employment in modelling, acting, or other performance industries, it is not appropriate to send a photograph with your covering letter. An employer will see what you look like, should you reach the interview stage. Until then, a photo won’t help you get a foot in the door.
· Forgetting to ask.
If you don’t ask… The primary goal of your covering letter is to get an interview. Be sure to ask for one at the end of your covering letter. Be prepared to initiate the follow-up communication yourself and let your prospective employer know you will be doing this. This may be just enough to get them to hold onto your letter and give it a more thorough reading.