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10 cover letter mistakes to avoid

When it comes to job applications, cover letters are often the last thing jobseekers think about. But with fierce competition for the best jobs, there's no excuse for writing any old letter just so you can paperclip your resume to it.

In fact, many employers are now treating cover letters as mini job applications in their own right, and savvy jobseekers are following suit, creating carefully crafted letters that announce their suitability for the job - and compel employers to hire them.

“Thanks to the high standard and volume of job applications received by employers, I think there’s definitely been a shift in the importance of cover letters,” says Emma Buxton, director of Buxton Pratt Consulting. “The cover letter no longer takes a back seat to the resume; employers see the cover letter as an important indicator of whether or not you’ve read the job advertisement, and are genuinely interested in the job you’ve applied for.”

Indeed, according to Buxton, jobseekers have around 30 seconds to impress potential employers with their cover letter - or not. “Cover letter mistakes are costly because they reduce the likelihood that your resume will be read and spoil your chances of gaining a job interview,” she says.

So, if you're serious about making a first impression that lasts, avoid these common cover letter no-nos:

1. Skipping a cover letter entirely
To prevent unnecessary disappointment, always include a cover letter with your job application, unless the application instructions specifically request you don’t.

2. Opening with an offensive salutation 
In order to use the most appropriate salutation, you need to discover exactly who to address your cover letter to - and that means doing your homework. Once you've determined the contact person’s name, you'll be able to work out whether to address them as Mr, Mrs, or Ms. If in doubt, always use a gender-neutral salutation.

3. Ignoring grammar and spelling mistakes
Sometimes it's hard to know what changes to make to a cover letter when you’ve been working hard on it. Before you send your cover letter to a potential employer use the spell-check feature available with most word processing software; then ask a friend to have a look at it with fresh eyes and to suggest improvements.

4. Leaving out the job title or job reference
When a potential employer reads your cover letter, they want to know what job you’ve applied for. Failing to quote the job title or job reference in your cover letter suggests an inability to follow instructions, and can often result in your application not being processed.

5. Addressing the wrong person or company
Even first-class cover letters can end up in the rejection pile if they never reach the right recipient. So, before you post or email your job application, always set a little extra time aside to check the contact details on your cover letter against those provided in the job ad.

6. Being too casual or familiar
To make sure that your cover letter hits the right note, you need to use the right style, tone and language. So when it comes to crafting your masterpiece, always be formal, professional, and concise. But don't think ‘formal’ has to mean ‘stiff’: while using text message shorthand is likely to result in outright rejection, adding a little personality can make your cover letter read better.

7. Attaching an informal photo
While you might have fallen in love with that hot party snap and have convinced yourself that your cover letter won't be as effective without it, if it would be right at home among the clubbing pages of your favourite street press, then think carefully before you attach it to your cover letter - especially if an accompanying photo wasn’t requested.

8. Spamming multiple employers
No potential employer wants to see a string of competitors' email addresses at the top of your cover letter - it makes your job application feel lazy and directionless even if it’s not. Hiding potential employers' email addresses by listing them in the Bcc field can also backfire. Instead, personalise each message and email one employer at a time.

9. Using an unprofessional email address
If your personal email address is or similar, consider setting up an email account with a more professional name for the purpose of job-hunting. Also, displaying your full name to email recipients is preferable to displaying only your first name or nickname, and make sure your custom email signature is professional - these are all the little extras that potential employers notice.

10. Not revising an old cover letter
If you haven’t updated your cover letter in the past year or when your responsibilities or qualifications changed, it's very important that you update it before you apply for your next job. This is one of the biggest blunders that potential employers will be on the lookout for; an out-of-date cover letter suggests indifference or lack of attention to detail, and will ultimately lose you a chance at the job

More great cover letter and resume advice here in
MyCareer's Advice and Research Centre

Published: 07 November 2007

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