Here at GoThinkBig we see it all; the covering letter that makes us want to leap with joy because it’s almost perfect and has followed all our advice, and the one that make us want to hide under the table and have a little cry. We read a lot of cover letters every day, but despite our best efforts the same mistakes still seem to creep in. We know that writing them is tedious and talking about yourself is hard, but if you don’t write it properly, you won’t get an interview, let alone the job. Sad but true.
So to help you steer clear from mistakes, here are some of the ones we see a lot, in their extreme forms. PLEASE NOTE: these aren’t actual real covering letters but they could be. So if you look at these and laugh and think they’re so ridiculous and no one would ever write that in their cover letter – think again.
We called upon the help of Declan Collins, resourcing manager for O2, to give you his thoughts on the examples and what to write instead.
In some industries (especially creative ones), being quirky and conversational might match the tone of the company and employees, but it’s important to remember you’re still going through a formal process. So while you’re not writing a letter to the Prime Minister, some formalities should remain. “While it is fine to show a bit of personality in a cover letter, you need to remain professional at all times – don’t be the class clown,” Declan told us.
No mistakes will be forgiven in a covering letter. None; not one. You’re not under a time limit when writing your covering letter (unless you see the job advert half an hour before it closes) and you’re in control of what gets sent off, so save times for others to give it a read.
Addressing your letter to the wrong person, mentioning a different company, misinterpreting the job role, and incorrectly using spelling and grammar are the biggest mistakes of them all. “Spelling and other mistakes in any part of the application is simply not acceptable,” he says. “Get your application, covering letters, CVs, and any other materials triple checked. If you’re sloppy here what else will you be sloppy about?”
Yes, you might be desperate for a job, but so are a lot of other young people, so turn the competition into motivation, not a sob story. “You have to remember hiring is a competitive sport – all companies are in the market for the best talent,” Declan explained. “Outlining other companies reluctance to hire you does nothing but create a vibe of social proof that there’s a reason no one has hired you.”
“Additionally you need to remain professional: not being able to go out with your mates may be tragic, but it’s not in any way relevant to the decision making of the recruiter.”
There’s a fine line between telling your potential employer how great you are, but can you do it without coming across as smug and pretentious? “There’s a fine line between self-confidence and arrogance in the jobs market,” Declan said. “It’s very important not to cross that line. Be confident, and do state achievements but draw the line at statements that arrogantly imply they can do no better than you.
“You are portraying yourself as a problem to manage, with you knowing everything!”
Declan agrees that showing personality can be a positive, but this is too much. “Anything that cannot help your application – or is about someone else – is probably irrelevant to the application. Rule of thumb: if it’s not helping your application, there’s a chance it’s hurting it, so leave it out!”
In a quick roundup, Declan told us the most common mistakes he sees in covering letters: “Believe it or not but spelling and grammar is the worst, and having a standard “I’m really interested in your job” isn’t good as it’s clearly a generic application used for many different companies.”
“My advice would be make sure your spelling and grammar correct, personalise the opening line and then for the next 2/3 sentences, get to the problems relevant to the job spec you will solve for them or how you have solved it elsewhere.”
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