- A cover letter can make or break your ability to land a job, yet many people make mistakes that result in immediate rejection.
- Some cover letter red flags include grammatical errors, not sending all of the required information, and coming off as cocky.
- Author Jennifer Still has hired dozens of people. Here, she shares eight preventable cover-letter mistakes that immediately disqualified applicants.
I’ve worked as a professional editor for women’s lifestyle websites for nearly a decade now, and in that time, I’ve been tasked with creating and filling out large teams of writers.
I always try to make job descriptions and expectations clear to ensure that applicants – of which there are often hundreds a month – know what information they should be supplying and what will be expected of them if they are hired.
Still, you’d be surprised at how many people completely disregard these instructions and send in applications with cover letters that I end up deleting before I even get to the end of them.
Here are some of the biggest red flags I’ve seen time and time again in cover letters that disqualify the job seeker pretty much immediately.
1. Not proofreading or spell checking
This is probably the most obvious and egregious offense, particularly in my line of work. Most word-processing programs have built-in spell-checking features, so there really is no excuse for sending a cover letter that is littered with typos and grammatical errors.
2. Including the sentence ‘I don’t have any experience, but … ‘
While applicants with experience are definitely preferred, I’m always open to hiring newbies – just not ones who use this qualifier early in their cover letters. I’m not interested in what you haven’t done, I’m interested in what youhave done that could somehow be relevant to this position, even if it’s in a completely different industry.
What responsibilities or elements do the two have in common? Find them, share them, and be confident in what you have to offer.
3. Not sending all required information or application materials
If the job listing asks for writing samples and pitch ideas, and the applicant skips out on one or more elements, I’ve already lost interest. It’s not good enough to end a letter with, “Please let me know if I can provide any other info” – the other info we wanted was in the listing.
4. Asking questions that were already answered
When an applicant sends in a three-line email about how they saw the job listing and has a few questions, nine times out of 10 their questions have already been answered, often in depth … in the actual job listing. This just tells me they didn’t bother to read it, so I don’t bother to read their application any further.
5. Sending a letter that has clearly been copied and pasted from another application
It’s obvious when an applicant has been using the same identical cover letter for every job they’ve been applying for, and it’s an immediate red flag. This often tells me that they know nothing about our company and are sending out applications en masse to see if anyone will bite.
Sometimes they even leave in the wrong company name, making this mistake extra cringeworthy. Personalizing your cover letter for each position can make all the difference to potential employers.
6. Being too jokey or informal
While the companies I hire for do tend to be more down-to-earth and less stuffy than others, that’s no excuse for applicants to send in cover letters that start with, “Hey, ladies (or dudes),” are written in slang, or are phrased as if they’re talking to friends rather than a potential boss.
I like to see a little personality in applications, but it’s a complete turn-off when your cover letter looks more like a high school yearbook inscription than a job application.
7. Coming off as cocky and insisting we’d be lucky to have them
It’s important to be confident in your skill set and what you have to offer an employer, but there’s a thin line between confidence and cockiness. Crossing that line is grounds for immediate application deletion.
Instead of just telling me how lucky I’d be to have you because you’re so great and there’s no one like you, I’d rather you let your work and past experience speak for your capabilities and leave it at that.
8. Giving backhanded compliments to the company
Yes, this does happen. I’ve seen a number of applications in which an applicant reveals that they’re familiar with the companies I’m hiring for, but they think that they’re “a bit basic” or are in need of some other improvement.
While I’m always open to hearing constructive suggestions for ways the companies I work for can improve and grow, it’s all in the phrasing, and insulting the company you’re trying to work for definitely won’t translate into a job offer.