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The Most Common Mistakes in Cover Letters

The Most Common Mistakes in Cover Letters

The smartest job seekers know that writing a cover letter — even if it’s not required — brings with it a bushel of benefits. And yet, if your letter doesn’t stand out, or if it makes just one of many common mistakes, it could sink your entire application.

How can you ensure that this critical document is helping rather than hurting you? By following a three-part process I call “EAR.” “EAR” means you need to answer three questions:

1. Why are you *excited* about the job?
2. Why are you *able* to do the job?
3. Why are the *right* person for the job?

Learn how to make “EAR” work for you and your career in this comprehensive workshop. We’ll study everything from your subject line to your salutation to whether you should include your letter as an attachment or in the body of the email.

Among the lessons you’ll learn:

📌 How to write to the job description.
📌 How to line up your capabilities with their requirements.
📌 How to show off not only your skills but also your personality.

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Jonathan Rick
PRO

February 25, 2018
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  1. This letter is to let you know that we have

    selected another candidate. After reviewing the many applications we received, yours was not selected for further consideration. I am sorry to have to tell you that we cannot offer you a position. The MOST COMMON Mistakes in Cover Letters We have determined that another candidate is the most qualified for the requirements of this job.
  2. None
  3. Overview Logistics Subject Line Opening Body Bonus Tips Instructions Closing

  4. Cover letters are a touchy subject. Because they’re so personal,

    they inspire strongly felt beliefs.
  5. Cover letters are a touchy subject. Because they’re so personal,

    they inspire strongly felt beliefs. Yet even experts disagree about many of the rules.
  6. Cover letters are a touchy subject. Because they’re so personal,

    they inspire strongly felt beliefs. Yet even experts disagree about many of the rules. So, if something I suggest conflicts with what you’ve been taught, please say so.
  7. OVERVIEW

  8. Should you write a cover letter if it’s not asked

    for?
  9. Should your cover letter recap your résumé?

  10. None
  11. To highlight key parts of your résumé. To elaborate on

    the “summary” section in your résumé. To align your qualifications with the needs of the job. To validate your writing skills. To explain any gaps in your résumé. To neutralize any lack of prerequisites. To show your personality.
  12. None
  13. A cover letter has one purpose that exceeds all the

    others. What is it?
  14. Instructions

  15. 1. Attach all your materials in a single PDF. 2.

    Specify your salary requirements. 3. Include three professional references.
  16. “If you think I’m a stickler, you should talk to

    my clients. The most common reaction I hear from them is, ‘If the candidate can’t follow simple application instructions, how will she perform on the job?’ They also say, ‘If the candidate doesn’t care enough to read the instructions, she must not be very interested in the job.’ It’s hard to argue with either point.” — Claire Kittle Dixon
  17. Logistics

  18. Should you include your cover letter as an attachment, or

    in the body of your email?
  19. 1 Convenience

  20. 1 2 Convenience Technology

  21. 1 2 3 Convenience Technology Security

  22. If an attachment is asked for, should you send an

    Adobe Acrobat file (a PDF) or a Word document?
  23. Subject Line If the job description doesn’t specify one.

  24. Amateurs Executive Secretary White House Job Professionals I want to

    be President Bartlet’s new executive secretary Deborah, I Heard the President Needs an Executive Secretary…
  25. Opening

  26. IF YOU MUST ATTACH A COVER LETTER Then follow this

    format.
  27. Your Contact Info Date Recruiter’s Contact Info Salutation Charles Young

    4301 13th Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20011 cyoung@theodorerooseveltdc.org (202) 576-6130 September 13, 2016 Deborah DiLaguardia The White House Presidential Personnel Office 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20006 Dear Ms. DiLaguardia,
  28. Amateurs Dear Deborah Fiderer Professionals Dear Ms. Fiderer Dear Deborah

  29. How should you address your recruiter if you can’t ascertain

    her name?
  30. Amateurs To Whom It May Concern Dear Sir Dear KPMG

    Professionals Good Morning Hi There Greetings
  31. What about “Dear Recruiter”?

  32. Amateurs Dear Recruiter Professionals Good Morning

  33. Should you say, “My name is _________”?

  34. Amateurs My name is C.J. Cregg, and I’m writing to

    apply for the position of Press Secretary. Professionals I’m writing to apply for the position of Press Secretary.
  35. Body

  36. E A R EXCITED ABLE RIGHT

  37. E A R EXCITED ABLE RIGHT

  38. “The first time I scanned a check with my smartphone,

    I was delighted by how simple deposits suddenly became. Now that I’m in the market for a job, I immediately thought of Chase because I want to help to create the tools that make banking a pleasure.” — Adam Dachis
  39. “I was an hour out from my first big dinner

    party when I realized I had forgotten to pick up the white wine. In a panic, I started Googling grocery-delivery services, and that’s when I found Instacart. I’ve been hooked ever since, so I couldn’t help but get excited by the idea of bringing the amazingness of Instacart to shoddy planners like me as your next social-media manager.” — The Muse
  40. E A R EXCITED ABLE RIGHT

  41. “I know I can do this job because I’ve done

    it before. Let me tell you about Snapshots. Snapshots was an internal e-newsletter for the Department of Homeland Security, for which I served as the chief writer. Each week, I’d translate highly technical research into stories. I illuminated these concepts in a way that our readers understood and thus became keen to learn more about. As a result, Snapshots was frequently cited in top-tier media outlets like CNN and Popular Science.” — Jonathan Rick
  42. “This is the best cover letter I’ve seen in my

    20 years as a recruiter.” — Lindsay Olson
  43. I spent a year at the World Bank, where I

    wrote and edited stories on topics such as good governance, big data, technology, and citizen engagement. Not only do I use all these platforms personally; I also grew the World’s Bank audience on Facebook and Flickr by 25% in just 3 months. I am conversationally fluent in Spanish, and am double-majoring in Spanish and Business. Strong writing and editing skills. Strong understanding of social media platforms, including Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Spanish or French language skills a plus. That’s Me! You’re Looking For
  44. How do you address the fact that you lack a

    prerequisite?
  45. Amateurs I know I’m not as qualified as other candidates,

    but I’m a hard worker. Professionals What I lack in years of experience I make up for in productivity, persistence, and passion.
  46. Amateurs I’ve never been an official “community manager,” but I’m

    a quick study. Professionals While you won’t find the title “community manager” listed on my résumé, I’ve been bringing people together online and off for three years while running my own blog and series of Meetups.
  47. E A R EXCITED ABLE RIGHT

  48. “So, why should we hire you?” — Every recruiter everywhere

  49. “Many PowerPointers can build interesting images, but they’re all thumbs

    when it comes to shaping a narrative. Similarly, most writers can script a story, but they don’t know how to exploit PowerPoint beyond using one of those built-in, off-the-rack templates. With me, you get the best of both worlds. Not only can I design pictures that dazzle; I can also write words that resonate. Put simply, I’m both a designer and a writer.” — Jonathan Rick
  50. “What makes me different from the 200,000 other social media

    ‘gurus’ and ‘ninjas’ you’ve likely bumped into? Not only have I led digital teams for such blue-chip brands as Citgo, Kia, and Booz Allen Hamilton; I’ve also trained executives from Visa, Twitter, and chambers of commerce across the country. What’s more, I write for, and am quoted in, publications such as Mashable, Time, and Politico. In other words, when it comes to social media, both my peers and the media consider me an expert.” — Jonathan Rick
  51. How can you ascertain a company’s culture?

  52. 1. Job description. 2. The “about” section on their website.

  53. The ideal candidate will be prepared for a wide range

    of responsibilities on a daily basis, with the ability to quickly shift priorities when needed. 1/3
  54. You flourish in our collaborative culture. You smile in the

    face of deadlines. You grit your teeth at bad copy. You want to have lots of fun delivering amazing work. 2/3
  55. We want protagonists to history, not spectators. 3/3

  56. Closing

  57. Amateurs I’ll follow-up with you in one week. Feel free

    to contact me by email or phone, as set forth above. Professionals At your convenience, I’d love to learn more about your needs and see how I can contribute to your team’s success. When you get a chance, I’d welcome the opportunity to chat.
  58. COUNTER- ARGUMENT

  59. Aren’t cover letters supposed to be formal?

  60. Dear Ms. Thomas: At the University of Maryland Fall Career

    Fair, I had the opportunity to speak with a recruiter and learn about the entry-level Quality Control position available with Merck & Company, Inc. I will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science in mathematics, specializing in statistics. My interest in corporate production and plant management has prompted me to contact you about this opportunity. As you can see from my résumé, my production internship with Kraft Foods last summer included valuable experience in both quality control and operations management. I have also taken many related courses, which I’m certain will provide a strong theoretical foundation for employment in this area. The University of Maryland Career Center
  61. These courses include Applied Research Methods, Business Statistics, Collective Bargaining

    and Operations Management. I have also been active in many business-related campus activities. My self- motivation and independent work ethic, along with my aptitude for statistics, make me a strong candidate for this position. I am eager to meet with you to further discuss this exciting opportunity. I look forward to hearing from you regarding next steps in the process. Thank you for your time and consideration. Sincerely, Jason Vincent The University of Maryland Career Center
  62. Bonus Tips

  63. AVOID THIS WORD

  64. Amateurs I feel I can help Toby deliver better briefings.

    Professionals I’m confident I can help Toby deliver better briefings.
  65. BREAK THE RULES

  66. 3 Reasons Why You Should Hire Me Jonathan Rick

  67. 3 Reasons Why You Should Hire Me Dear Mr. Seaborn,

    The DCCC job board says you’re looking for a contract speechwriter. I’d love to help! In lieu of a traditional cover letter, here are the top three things you should know about me: 1. I’m a freelance speechwriter, based just outside Washington, D.C., who’s been helping people polish their words for 15 years. 2. My work has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time Magazine, Politico, Fast Company, HuffPost, and many more. 3. I promise each client these three things. Jonathan Rick
  68. Kid Sends Perfectly Blunt Cover Letter for Wall Street Internship,

    and Now Tons of People Are Trying to Hire Him
  69. Dear Mr. Jones, My name is Matthew Ross, and I

    am an undergraduate finance student at San Diego State University. I met you the summer before last at Smith & Wollensky’s in New York when I was touring the east coast with my uncle, Sam Ross. I just wanted thank you for taking the time to talk to me that night. I am writing you to inquire about a possible summer internship in your office. I am aware it is highly unusual for undergraduates from average universities like SDSU to intern at Duff & Phelps, but nevertheless I was hoping you might make an exception. I am extremely interested in investment banking and would love nothing more than to learn under your tutelage. I have no qualms about fetching coffee, shining shoes or picking up laundry, and will work for next to nothing. In all honesty, I just want to be around professionals in the industry and gain as much knowledge as I can. Matthew Ross, Page 1
  70. I won’t waste your time inflating my credentials, throwing around

    exaggerated job titles, or feeding you a line of crapp about how my past experiences and skill set align perfectly with an investment banking internship. The truth is I have no unbelievably special skills or genius eccentricities, but I do have a near perfect GPA and will work hard for you. I’ve interned at Merrill Lynch in the Wealth Management Division and taken an investment banking class at SDSU, for whatever that is worth. I am currently awaiting admission results for SDSU’s Masters of Science in Accountancy program, which I would begin this fall if admitted. I am also planning on attending law school after my master’s program, which we spoke about in New York. I apologize for the blunt nature of my letter, but I hope you seriously consider taking me under your wing this summer. I have attached my resume for your review. Feel free to call me at (123) 456-7890 or email me at matthew@ross.com. Thank you for your time. Matthew Ross, Page 2
  71. The Best Cover Letter Even Written

  72. Dear Sir: I like words. I like fat buttery words,

    such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demimonde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. Robert Pirosh, Page 1
  73. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker,

    genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble, and burp. I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation, and horsing around. I have just returned and I still like words. May I have a few with you? Robert Pirosh, Page 2
  74. EXTRA CREDIT

  75. Why should I hire you?

  76. 1. Avoid clichés. 2. Avoid selfishness.

  77. 1. Passion. 2. Confidence. 3. Specifics.

  78. We’re excited to extend this offer of employment for the

    position of Associate Director of People Operations. Congratulations! We are pleased to confirm you have been selected to work for the Department of Defense. On behalf of the Museum of Natural History, I’m delighted to offer you a position as Vice President. Welcome to the team at Arnold & Porter. Tell me your pet peeves! hi@jonathanrick.com