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Seven Cover Letter Mistakes Hiring Managers Say to Avoid

July 10, 2009

"Cover Letters are very influential," says Jim, a Cingular human resource manager, "and a well written letter can grab an interview just on its own merit. It's too bad most job hunters are so lazy they don't write one. That's a mistake no savvy job hunter wants to make."

Some other mistakes noted in the survey included:

1. Don't lose them with your first sentence. Imagine yourself with 300 resumes to sort through and 295 start their cover letter this way: "I'm applying for the job I saw on your website." According to the survey results, a cover letter and resume only get a 15 second glance, so your first line either grabs the reader's attention or loses it. Hiring managers prefer you use a powerful first sentence that summarizes the top skills and experience you can bring to the job. For example, Five years experience as a high tech project with a proven track record of being on time and within budget is the background I'd bring to your position.

2. Poorly written. "I'm convinced when I see a meagerly written or generic form-like letter that the applicant hasn't done anything that can help us, so I never even look at the resume," stated one human resource manager. Over 90% of the hiring managers agreed that SPECIFICS sell! Mike, vice-president of human resources, said, "The cover letter is the very first thing we see. Candidates that stand out for us used short powerful evidence as they wrote sentence after sentence detailing past achievements and the talents and contributions they would bring to our company. To me, the cover letter is more influential than the resume, because it is a truer sample of the candidate's communication skills, since they most likely wrote it themselves."

3. Do not ignore the stated criteria. "Applicants who do not address the qualifications requested in the advertisement or job listing make a huge mistake. And it seems so many don't address the employer's need--at all," said Kelly, a CFO with extensive hiring experience. "Employers quickly search for those meeting the needs and throw out the rest," she added. The best strategy is to address each specific qualification and state the experience and skills you possess to perform that task or function.

4. Don't let careless errors torpedo you. Managers repeatedly said, "I stop reading when I see typos and spelling mistakes." Stephanie, a human resource manager, who has hired over 500 people confirmed, ‘'Once I see a typo I know that this is NOT a person we want to hire into our organization." Don't relying on spell-checkers. Proofread very carefully since spell-checkers correct misspellings but they don't correct wrong word usages such as using "sea" when you meant to write "see."

5. Clueless about presentation. Microscopic type is a bad choice! Every manager reiterated that letters must be easy to read, which means no small font type size. Keep the font clean--Arial is a good choice--at size 12 point, especially when faxing since the type often is blurred in the faxing process. Instead of shrinking the font size to squeeze too much onto one page, carefully edit so your letter is enticing to read.

6. Forgetting contact information. One human resource specialist sent along a cover letter that had no address or phone number on it. She sarcastically wrote, "Don't you just love this? We couldn't contact this person even if we wanted to." ALWAYS include your address, email, and home or cell telephone number on your letter. Be certain the numbers and email are legible.

7. Making salary demands. A significant number of hiring managers said they were downright offended when no salary information was even requested and a job applicant still wrote, "I need $55,000 per year, plus full medical, dental and retirement benefits. One hiring manager revealed on most managers felt about this saying, "Some people send us a clear message that they are totally focused on their own needs and not on what they can do for our company, so we immediately delete them the competition. We continue to look to find a better team contributor to interview."

Human Resource Manager, Barbara Baker, concisely summarized the best strategy to follow. "I've hired over 1,200 people. I've seen so many mistakes--too long, too short, general, non-specific content, some even state the reasons they were fired. A great cover letter boils down to this--a simple direct letter that mentions how their skills relate to performing the position applied for." Many people write such a terrible cover letter they never get an interview, let alone land the job. That's one mistake you should never make.

The entire list of survey results and all 23 mistakes plus sample cover letters are published in the book "Winning Cover Letters" 2nd Edition by Robin Ryan.

Many of Robin's articles have appeared in such prestigious magazines as Money, Business Week, Fortune,Good Housekeeping, and Woman's Day. She has also appeared in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, and many others. Robin's nationally syndicated column by Gannett Newspapers is carried on 100+ online newspaper sites.

Contact Robin at 425-226-0414 or email her