Five big mistakes: cover letters
A cover letter doesn’t have to be the bane of your job searching life! Here are a few pointers to get you heading in the right direction.
1. Consider your audience
Know your audience and structure the cover letter accordingly. Whether you have a direct contact at the company or your email is likely to head straight in the HR team’s inbox, your application should be targeted appropriately. Before you start, ask yourself these questions:
Who do I address it to?
If you don’t have the name of a contact, avoid guessing – an email addressed “Dear Sir” landing in the inbox of a woman is not a great start. Addressing your cover letter to the HR department or to whom it may concern is fine.
How long should a cover letter be?
Check whether the application is asking for a cover letter or just a brief outline of your education and work experience. Nobody likes a ten thousand word email, so avoid recalling your life story and just draw attention to the important information that they need to know.
Do I have to send one?
If the application requests it – you should probably send one. An employer needs to know that you can follow basic instructions. A two second “here’s my CV” email doesn’t quite cut it. If there’s no mention of a cover letter, it’s up to you to decide!
We’ve all sent an email and then suddenly had that “*&@$%^!” moment when you spot an embarrassing typo or incorrect spelling or grammar, so how do you avoid it? Check, double check, and triple check your email before sending! Ask someone else to have a look – a fresh pair of eyes can help. A spelling mistake or grammatical error will instantly ring alarm bells in the head of whoever is reading your application, so avoid this classic mistake and you’re already winning.
3. Unsupported claims
A cover letter is a prime opportunity to highlight your skills, education and experience and demonstrate how they are relevant to the job you are applying for. However, if you claim to be a whizz at all things graphic design related or to have an in-depth knowledge of banking and finance – and you don’t – you might run into trouble. If you talk the talk, you will undoubtedly have to walk the walk at some point. Focus on what you can do and what you are looking to learn to do. Selling yourself as someone who is keen to learn is attractive to a potential employer and arguably less risky than trying to wing it.
4. Highlighting a lack of experience
You may be surprised at how you can make hospitality or retail experience or a society position you held at university relevant to a job application. Showing how this position of responsibility provided you with key skills like leadership and communication is an example of focusing on your positive attributes (not what you don’t have) and backing up a statement with evidence. Try to make your cover letter as positive and dazzling as possible! Avoid focusing on the negatives and big up what you can bring to the table.
Sending a generic “Dear Sir/Madam, I am really interested in applying for this job” is not really what a potential employer or recruiter wants to see. Ideally, you should tailor your CV to each application for a greater chance of success. Read the job spec and pick out key words and phrases, but be careful not to just regurgitate it. Think outside the box and do some research on the company. It’s more appealing for a sociable company to hear: “I really enjoy working as part of a team and I’m keen to be part of a vibrant company culture” than “I really want to succeed in marketing”. You want to make them think that you would be a great fit for their workplace – before they’ve even met you. Taking time when applying to jobs is crucial and it all comes back to quality over quantity! Churning out applications may feel satisfying, but a job search isn’t something you can tick off your to do list overnight. It takes time, but it’s worth it once your career is catapulted into action.