3 Cover Letter Mistakes You Don’t Want To Make

June 15, 2011 at 9:30 am Leave a comment

Photo Credit: Zen Cupcake

You eat with your eyes, right? If a pastry behind the glass bakery counter looks unappealing and bland, are you going to snatch it? Nope. It needs to be pretty, colorful & inspiring to get your taste buds sparkling. It’s the same for getting that interview. Trust me. Just top some surprise sprinkles to your cover letter cupcake and make that reader hungry for more. Make it look yummy like this photo. Yum.

Okay, I know it’s not as delicious of a thought as a cupcake is, but I thought I’d liven it up a bit. It’s that dreaded, stressful, I-need-to-make-this-perfect feeling (not mouth watering cupcake goodness) that we all get when writing them. Cover Letters. Ugh.

I have to say, being on the other side of it now in my job, they don’t seem SO scary anymore (still a bit scary though…lets be honest.)

Over the last few months I’ve received a lot of cover letters and resumes from students seeking internships at my agency. It’s been really eye opening for me to see what works and what doesn’t. There are a few things that jumped out at me immediately when reading through these cover letters. Like, taking-candy-from-a-baby obvious. I was able to sift out the best, real and most interested candidates after a few sentences.

Here’s 3 mistakes students made that took them out of the running…pretty quickly.

1) Not Reading Over Their Cover Letter With A Fine Tooth Comb

I was reading through a cover letter of a student that seemed promising. I was ready to send an interview request…until I got to the uh-oh-someone-didn’t-proof-read-paragraph. It said “I would love to work for (another agency’s name) as I think I’d be a successful candidate…” They wrote the wrong NAME. It was obviously a template the student used to apply for various internships. It immediately turned me off when I saw that they copy and pasted the letter, and didn’t even take the time to proof read it to make sure they were addressing the right company. How could I put this person on a copy writing client project? Needless to say, this went into the “no” pile.

2) Being Too Generic

I feel like teachers, mentors, parents and every other person on the planet stresses that you need to have a tailored cover letter. But, people still don’t take the time to do it (those laggards…). I know it can be PAINFUL, I really do. But it’s worth the agony. Deal with it. Some people’s letters we’re just SO boring and cliche, my eyes drifted slowly.

For example: “I’m interested in this internship because I love social media and really think the field is growing.” Okay? That tells me nothing about you. It tells me nothing about why specifically our clients, approach, mission, etc. fits with your interests or passions.

Be specific, read the company’s blog or case studies–comment on a post or a study with your opinion. Find out who the company’s clients are and go to THEIR websites. Study them–impress and write something about the client that inspires you or relates to you or to a project you’ve done or life experience you’ve had. Be different. Be concise. Be specific. Be original. Don’t Ctrl C and Ctrl V it.

3. Writing a Weak Lead-In

I’m not a diva. Not even a little bit. But honestly, all those cover letters and resumes I received on top of all the work I had to do, was tough to juggle with my busy schedule. Many people who are hiring are feeling the same way–trying to balance their work AND the hiring process. So, make your lead-in snappy, interesting, pull the reader in–because it’s easy to get side tracked and skip over you if it’s anything less than this.

Weak Example: “I have vast experience in the social media marketing field and fit all the qualifications of this position.”

Strong Example (if I say so myself): “My experience creating, executing and monitoring social media marketing campaigns, resulting in X% ROI for clients, mixed with my insane passion for all things in 140 characters, makes me the perfect social media nerd for this position.”

What do you think a cover letter needs most?


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A marketing gal's journey through life as a young professional. The storyline includes heart flutters, hiccups and happiness along the way...with one big spoonful of creativity in each chapter. I'm also the founder of Young Women in Digital, a Boston-based group for digital marketers to mix and mingle at pressure-free, fun events around the city!

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