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Covering letters: 10 classic mistakes

Last week we speculated about the necessity or not of cover letters. This week, here’s some globally relevant advice from our Australian site on where cover letters most frequently go wrong.

1) What was that job again?

Banks are back in hiring mode and some of them have hundreds of roles open across several departments. Give HR and recruiters a break and include the position you are applying for in you introductory paragraph, says Jason Hemens, manager, Michael Page International.

2) Know the manager’s name…

To make sure your cover letter stands out, do not start it with a generic salutation (such as “To whom it may concern” or “Dear sir or madam”). ” Instead, call the company to determine the hiring manager’s name and job title, if it’s not apparent in the ad. Addressing the letter to a specific individual will demonstrate both motivation and resourcefulness,” advises Andrew Brushfield, director, Robert Half International.

3)…and gender

“A recent cover letter I received not only had the incorrect name and company, it also had the wrong salutation, assuming I was male. Simple mistakes can lose a recruiter or prospective employer’s interest very quickly,” says Emma Peardon, director, Charterhouse Partnership.

4) I just love your bank

Keep the letter professional. “Avoid the temptation to be too familiar and conversational in the cover letter. Maintain a professional tone because you don’t know the person you are sending it to,” says Hemens.

5) Tailor it!

Recruiters and HR can easily spot a one-size-fits-all letter, so make sure to tailor the text to show your interest in the institution (which you will have researched before you started writing), comments Blaise Habgood, manager of banking & financial services, Randstad.

6) Don’t super size

The length of your cover letter should be about one A4 page. “Hiring managers don’t want to read a novel, so limit the cover letter to about three short paragraphs,” says Brushfield.

7) Don’t cram

The cover letter should not simply repeat or summarise your CV, says Habgood. “Don’t try and convince the reader to interview you based solely on your cover letter. You’ll end up trying to cram most of your resume into the letter and lose the reader’s interest. Keep the content concise and relevant to the position you’re applying for,” adds Hemens.

8) Relevant skills only please

“Your interest in rock climbing isn’t applicable unless you are applying to a firm that caters to sports enthusiasts,” says Brushfield.

9) Verb power

Employers will think you lack confidence if your words are too wimpy. “When thinking about language, use strong verbs, such as ‘organised’ and ‘managed’,” says Habgood.

10) Don’t attack your resume

The biggest mistake applicants can make is to have typos or grammatical errors. “My firm has seen candidates take themselves out of the running by writing things such as: ‘Following is a grief overview of my skills,’ and ‘I’m attacking my resume for you to review’,” says Brushfield.

Comments (10)

Comments
  1. Sarah – most people visiting this site will never write a covering letter….headhunters don’t require this! And once you are out of your grad training you will never have to write a covering letter again

  2. @Jane – you may be right – agency recruiters last week said they’re not hugely necessary. Despite that, however, cover letters are always a very popular topic whenever we write anything about them.

    Sarah, Editor, eFinancialCareers Reply
     
  3. If you need this sort of advice, I’d give up now.

  4. Re points 2 & 3: most recruiters (on eFC at least) give their names, while companies advertising directly tend not to. Presumably, this is to discourage people from telephoning. In my experience they are unlikely to give out names and can get quite fed up, if asked repeatedly for this information.

  5. “A recent cover letter I received not only had the incorrect name and company, it also had the wrong salutation, assuming I was male. Simple mistakes can lose a recruiter or prospective employer’s interest very quickly,” says Emma Peardon, director, Charterhouse Partnership. ”

    I also would probably not hire someone who thought emma was a mans name

  6. I once saw a cover letter of someone who was really passionate to work in the BAKING industry

  7. “…don’t make spelling mistakes in your covering letter…” – wow, cutting edge advice…

  8. I think Michael Page is certainly the best company to give advice of ths sort of thing…NOT!

  9. Obvious but inherently useful – It can only be a good resource to mark your covering letter against before submission……

  10. All of these are important and excellent tips to follow. Along with being precise and short, a person also needs to put in their personality as well.

    resume cover letter help Reply
     

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