3 Cover Letter Mistakes You Never Knew You Were Making

One of the keys to landing an awesome job is starting off on the right foot with the recruiter. Writing a strong resume and filling out your WayUp profile are the best ways to get started, but if you want to really stand out, a cover letter can be a great way to demonstrate the value you can bring to an organization. That said, few things are as annoying to recruiters as a poorly written cover letter. So, what can you do to ensure that yours make a good impression? Here are the top three cover letter mistakes and tips on what you can do to fix them.

1. Focusing too much on yourself and your resume.

Although it’s great to list one or two key accomplishments that are relevant to the role you’re applying for, your cover letter shouldn’t rehash your resume. In fact, it should focus on the things that you can bring to the table and only mention the skills and experience that are most relevant to the position. Instead of summarizing your achievements, go beyond your resume and make your experiences personal to the job.

Pro Tip: Quantifying achievements with metrics is a wonderful way to demonstrate the impact you’ve had at previous jobs and to help hiring managers envision you as a member of their team.

2. Making it longer than a page.

Another common cover letter mistake a lot of college students and recent grads make is to write a letter that’s far too long. Although this might be tempting (after all, you want to show the hiring manager that you’ve done a lot of cool things and could do a wonderful job for them), it’s important to remember that employers are often quite busy and often don’t have time to read a two-page letter. Instead of telling them your whole life story, focus on conveying your enthusiasm for the role and highlighting 2-3 key things that define your work and your personality.

Pro Tip: Knowing how to structure your cover letter will go a long way toward ensuring that you get it right. We recommend keeping it to three paragraphs with the first paragraph mentioning why you’re applying for the position, the second paragraph explaining your interest in the role and the industry and the third paragraph discussing your qualifications. This is a great way to ensure that you’re hitting on all the right points without going overboard on the length.

3. Not checking for typos and grammar mistakes.

Of all the mistakes you can make on your cover letter, not proofreading for typos is probably the worst. This signifies a lack of attention and also a lack of care, two things that are unlikely to impress recruiters. The best way to avoid this is by making sure to read through your letter at least three times and asking a friend or family member to take a look at it too.

Pro Tip: Here’s a proofreading tip you may not have heard before: Reading backwards is an excellent way to catch spelling mistakes that you might otherwise gloss over. The best way to do it is by going through the letter word by word (starting with your signature) and working your way to the top.

While a strong cover letter can help you get noticed by employers, a weak one might hurt your chances of getting hired. By knowing what mistakes to look out for — and what to do if they pop up — you’ll be able to write the kind of cover letter that will help you stand out from the crowd.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as How to Become a Financial Analyst and find answers to common interview questions such as Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?

Cover Letter Guides

Before writing a cover letter, it’s important to understand how it can help or hurt you. In the internship application process a cover letter is your first impression. It’s an opportunity to tell a perspective employer why you’re the perfect fit for their internship and their office and just as importantly, a cover letter is an opportunity to tell an employer you don’t care about their position, by writing a sloppy or template cover letter. Some valuable cover letter topics include, explaining why a position interests you, what you bring to the table, how you would be a great fit, or something unique about you that makes you different from the hundreds of other candidates. The ultimate goal of your cover letter is to get the reader excited to meet you for an interview to learn more.

To summarize the points above, ingredients needed to make a successful cover letter are:

Header with contact information:

Including a header with your contact information on the cover letter makes you look professional and ensures your information will be easy to find. You should also consider including this header on all documents you’re submitting when applying, it demonstrates your professionalism and acts as an opportunity to brand yourself to the perspective employer.

Who is your audience?

Try to find the person who is in charge of intern hiring and address your cover letter and resume to them. Statistics show you have a better chance of being hired if you know who’s doing the hiring and if you recognize them, so take some time to research who will be reviewing your submitted materials and write to them specifically.

The hook:

The person reviewing applicant cover letters and resumes will most likely be going through more than you can imagine, so it’s extremely important to hook ‘em with the first line of your cover letter. Start your cover letter with a statement that will catch the reader’s eye, you can try an interesting or entertaining fact that relates you to the company. Always try your hardest to avoid the typical salutations used in writing, because chances are, your reader has already come across many and is sick of seeing them.

What I do and what I can do for you:

Employers want to know what you can bring to the table, so why beat around the bush, give them what they want! It’s rare for a hiring manager to read an entire cover letter from start to finish, so try using bullet points and bolded text to help identify the important information they’ll be searching for.

Finish strong, let your confidence shine:

Let the company know why you want to work for them and that you really believe you would be a good fit with their team, their company culture, and company community. Also, adding a signature will personalize your cover letter and help you stand out with a sense of professionalism.

How to Write a Cover Letter

While many jobs no longer require cover letters (especially most jobs on WayUp), when a job does require one, your cover letter could be a big part of whether or not you get to the next round. If you haven’t written a cover letter before (or even if you have), you may be wondering whether writing one is really necessary. The answer is yes, if you do it effectively. Think of your cover letter as your edge. If you write it well, it will give potential employers an insight into your personality, something that’s hard to discover by just skimming your resume.

Here’s our simple formula to writing an amazing cover letter.

Don’t restate everything in your resume. Instead, tell your story.

Think of your resume and your cover letter as a package — they complement each other, but they’re not the same thing. While your resume covers your educational background and work experience, your cover letter tells a story about who you are and what you’d like to do with your career. Since recruiters look through hundreds (sometimes thousands) of resumes every day, a memorable cover letter is more likely to stand out. Give them something to remember by highlighting some of your unique qualities.

Keep it short and to the point.

Cover letters should be short, sweet and to the point. Keep in mind that the recruiter is likely reading dozens or hundreds of them, so make yours pop in a succinct way, and definitely don’t make it longer than one page.

Opening paragraph

In two-three sentences, explain who you are and what position or program you’re applying for.

Second paragraph

Then, in one-two sentences explain why you want the job. Be sure to mention your knowledge of the industry and your interest in the company. This is where research will come in handy.

Third paragraph

In three sentences, explain why you’re qualified for the job. Include relevant work experience (paid and unpaid internships or other jobs you’ve had) and mention classes you’ve taken that have guided you towards this field.

Closing sentence

Your final sentence is all about finishing strong. Tell the employer that you look forward to hearing from them and include your contact information (email and phone number).

Ask an advisor or professor to look it over.

Once you’ve finished writing your cover letter, make a few edits to ensure that there are no typos. Then ask an advisor or professor to look it over, focusing on whether there are any additional areas you can highlight or any unique skills you can mention. Make sure to incorporate their feedback before doing a final edit and pressing send.

Although writing a cover letter isn’t always necessary when applying for a job, if done effectively it can be a valuable add-on to your job application. By following the steps outlined here, you can write a great cover letter and land the internship or entry-level job you’ve been dreaming of.

 

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as Tips to Make Your Resume Stand Out and find answers to common interview questions such as Are You Willing to Relocate?.

10 Tips for the Perfect Cover Letter

If you’re applying for internships or entry-level jobs, you may be wondering how and when to write a cover letter. While many jobs no longer require cover letters (especially those on WayUp), in cases where a cover letter is required, writing a well-crafted letter can be a key part of landing an interview.

These 10 tips will help you write the perfect cover letter:

1. Start strong.

In addition to informing your reader what position you’re applying for, your first one or two sentences should identify the qualities and experience that make you a strong candidate for the position. If you don’t have relevant prior work experience, briefly describe how your coursework or extracurricular activities have provided you with the foundation you need to establish your career.

Say something like: “Please accept my application for the editorial assistant position. As an English major at and a fiction editor for the literary journal there, my knowledge of contemporary literature combined with the administrative experience I gained during a previous internship has prepared me to contribute to all aspects of the publishing process.”

Pro Tip: Find out the name of the hiring manager and address the letter directly to them. If you’re not able to find a direct contact then address the letter to the department you’re applying to.

2. Keep it short.

Take the space you need to specify what you have to offer an organization, but don’t go overboard. There’s no need to go beyond a page, and your letter should consist of three or four brief paragraphs at most. A concise — and compelling — cover letter is your first chance to demonstrate that you can communicate effectively.

3. Language matters.

While your cover letter shouldn’t read as though you cut and pasted the job description, it should mirror the language used to describe the skills and qualities required for the position. Hiring managers and the algorithms that are increasingly being used to parse job applications are looking for particular keywords, so make sure to use them.

For example, if the job description outlines skills x, y and z as being required for the position, make sure you use the same language when you’re highlighting your skill set and experience.

4. Know your audience.

Remember that you are writing for a prospective employer, not your best friend or a family member. The language you use when you fire off a quick email or text is not appropriate for a cover letter. It’s ok to be conversational in tone, but you don’t want to be too casual. You also don’t want to be overly formal. Try and strike the right balance between personable and professional.

5. Customize the content.

You may be wondering if you need to write a different cover letter for each job you apply for. The answer is yes. While there’s a general formula for how your cover letter should look — introductory paragraph, one or two paragraphs explaining what you have to offer the organization, and the conclusion — each company has its own culture, which should be reflected in your content. You wouldn’t send the same cover letter for a job at a startup providing services for millennials as you would to an established investment firm serving retirees.

Pro Tip: Customizing your cover letter is actually not as hard as it sounds. Once you have one or two templates you’re comfortable with, you’ll be able to customize each letter fairly easily by swapping out certain key phrases and company-specific information.

6. Make it new.

Don’t simply restate what’s already listed on your resume. The cover letter is your opportunity to meaningfully expand on that information and give your potential manager insight into the kind of employee you will be. Relate specific anecdotes or statistics that highlight your qualifications and strengths.

7. Avoid clichés.

If you describe yourself as an “out-of-the-box” thinker, the hiring manager likely won’t believe it. That’s because the phrase itself has become so overused that it no longer suggests creativity or originality. Instead of relying on hackneyed language to describe yourself, take the time to relate an instance where you posed a creative solution to a problem you faced. Just make sure it’s relevant to the position you’re applying for, or that it reveals qualities that position you as a good fit for the company. In other words, at the risk of sounding clichéd, “Show, don’t tell.”

8. Make it about them.

Don’t make the mistake of expressing what a particular company can offer you instead of what you can offer the company. Would-be employers aren’t so interested in how much you’ll learn on the job, or that the position is the stepping stone you need to make it in a particular industry (even if that may very well be true). They want to know how you’ll contribute to the organization, so make sure the focus of your letter remains on how great you are, not the company.

9. Follow instructions.

Before you send off your materials, reread the job ad. Does it require additional materials, such as a link to a portfolio, writing samples, or recommendations on your LinkedIn profile? If you don’t follow the application instructions, hiring managers may be left with the impression that you are unable to do what is asked of you. Missing materials, late deadlines or cover letters that exceed one page are easy ways for potential employers to eliminate applicants. Make sure you aren’t one of them by following instructions.

10. Sweat the small stuff.

There’s no room for error when it comes to your job application materials. After you’ve finished a draft of your letter, give yourself some time away from it and come back with fresh eyes to revise and edit. Read it out loud to yourself to catch missing words and awkward phrasing, and have someone else proofread it.

As daunting as they may be to write, cover letters are an opportunity for you to let your potential employer get to know you. These tips will ensure you leave a lasting and favorable impression as you begin applying for positions. And once you land that first internship or entry-level job, you’ll have more material to work with for future cover letters.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as 6 Things to Do in Your First Week at a New Job and find answers to common interview questions such as Are You Willing to Travel?