Growing up you were probably taught how to write the classic cookie cutter cover letter. You know how it goes… “To whom it may concern, I’m excited to apply for X role at your company, as seen on Y job board. I am confident that with my experience and skills I can be a fantastic asset to your team, blah blah blah”.
You want my honest opinion? Instant snooze fest.
Sure, maybe that worked back in the day, but times have changed people! We’re not scoring jobs anymore by reeling off the same generic spiel time and time again. Take it from someone who has worked in HR and recruitment for over 10 years, you need to get creative. When recruiters are reading hundreds of cover letters every week, it’s all too easy for them to start zoning out when they see another cliche buzzword like “team player” or “uniquely qualified”.
The sad thing is though, no one teaches you how to do it RIGHT! Your high school careers advisor is probably still living in the pre-historic era, so I guess it’s up to me to spill the tea on what mistakes you need to AVOID when writing a cover letter in the 21st century.
Check out my video on YouTube, or keep reading below!
Mistake 1: Not Getting the Format Right
For starters, who the heck actually says “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam” in real life? NO ONE. So quit saying it in your cover letter. Always try to find the name of the person who is leading the recruitment - you can use the job title of the person listed in the job ad and find them on LinkedIn, or call the company directly and ask. If you’ve done both of those and still can’t find your answer, just put “Dear Hiring Team”, it’s much more human.
Speaking of human, don’t forget to write like one. Make sure you vary your sentence length and re-read it aloud to make sure it doesn’t sound robotic. You want it to sound natural, relaxed, and flow like a conversation. Feel free to break it up with headers and bullet points to make things clear and easy to follow. Keep the whole document to three quarters of a page, one page max. When there’s hundreds of these to read, recruiters don’t have time for essays. Just sayin’.
Mistake 2: Not Nailing the Hook
It’s called the hook for a reason, you’ve got to reel the recruiter in baby! And ain’t no one getting reeled in with the templates you’ll find on Google. The hook is your opportunity to create a genuine and instant connection with the reader, inject a bit of personality, and sell your unique qualities that will help solve the company’s biggest problem. You don’t want it to look like something you could just copy and paste for any role. You’ve got to bring some ✨razzle dazzle✨ to the table and make it personalised for the role you’re applying for! You can do this by elaborating on a personal connection to the company, vibing with their mission & core values, or by explaining your hunger to solve their problems, just to name a few!
Mistake 3 : Not doing the work for the recruiter
Sometimes applicants will fill their cover letter with a bunch of impressive things they’ve done, but it still just doesn’t make any sense. You need to connect the dots for the recruiter between who you are, what you offer, and what the company needs. A good exercise to help you with this is to make a table with two columns. Column one is a list of the job requirements, and column two is where you write a list of proof points that show you not only talk the talk, you also walk the walk. When recruiters are spending an average of only 7 seconds skimming your cover letter, you gotta make things glaringly obvious.
Mistake 4: Just rehashing your resume
You know that remix of your favourite 2000s song - yeah, the original is already a banger so let’s not mess with it! The same goes for your cover letter, it should be an entirely new document to your resume. This is your 15 seconds of fame (or should I say 7, because that’s how long they’ll spend skimming it 😬) to tell your story, don’t waste it repeating what they already know about you. If you’re pivoting to a new career, have a significant gap in your resume, or feel you maybe fall short on a few of the job requirements, it’s also a great chance to explain yourself in more detail and argue your fit for the role and wider company.
Mistake 5: Fangirling over the company
Yes you want to make the company feel special and show them you’ve done your research, but it's a balancing act. The company already knows who they are, they don’t need you to remind them of the awards they’ve won or the year they were founded. Instead, use this space to tell them how you’re going to serve them.
So, there you have it. Avoid these mistakes, and you won’t look like every other Tom, Dick, and Harry searching for a role in this oh-so-competitive job market.
Still want more? Download my Nail That Hook Cover Letter Guide to receive a bunch of inspiration when it comes to writing a juicy hook that’ll leave the recruiter drooling 🤤
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