Although there were a lot of mistakes in the cover letters we benchmarked, six stood out as the worst. Below is an excerpt from our Cover Letter Best Practices Report.
Being Unprofessional: Using an informal salutation won’t help and most likely will make a poor impression. If you aren’t going to address the letter in a serious manner, why should a hiring manager take your resume seriously.
Being Sexiest: It was surprising to find cover letters addressed “Dear Sir” and “Gentlemen.” Even if the job seeker intended no offense to female hiring managers, by addressing this way, they are showing that they are not aware of how this might be perceived – not the impression you want to make. Even with male hiring managers, this will make a bad impression. Most hiring managers will conclude that the job seeker has the potential to be an EEOC or Sexual Harassment liability. The downside for the company is too great to risk, and the job seeker’s resume will probably be discarded.
Wrong Customization: A number of the submissions were addressed to the firm, not an individual. In these cases, one spelled the name of the firm wrong and one had left the name of another company in the salutation, forgetting to replace the name from the last time they sent the same cover letter. Needless to say, neither of these mistakes made a good impression.
Spelling: The majority of cover letters had no spelling mistakes. The ones that did have mistakes, tended to have multiple mistakes. The two spelling mistakes that were the most entertaining were:
– A job seeker, in the first sentence of their cover letter, wrote that they were “seeking a challanging, new position which will utilize my skills and allow me to make a substantive impact.” They should focus on the challenging task of learning to spell challenging.
– A job seeker wrote a lengthy cover letter that focused almost entirely on an MBA they recently received. The letter was 2 paragraphs, 178 words, dedicated to their education and how it would be a benefit to an employer. This would not be a problem if they could spell the University of “Pheonix.”
My Name Is: A number of cover letters start out with the first sentence stating the name of the job seeker. The first sentence of a cover letter is the most likely to be read. Wasting this prime real estate on your name makes it much more likely the reader will skip the cover letter and move on to the resume.
Too Much Hype: Some of the cover letters examined were submitted to confidential employers, where the name of the company was not disclosed. Despite this, some of these included gushing statements of how the job seeker was extremely impressed with the company due to their excellent quality, track record and reputation. You can get away with blanket statements like this if you know who the company is. Doing this when it is clear you know nothing about the company will make one of two impressions. First, you are exaggerating everything you write and it can’t be trusted. Second, you’re making up whatever you think the hiring manager wants to hear, so nothing you write can be trusted.