We’ve all been there at some point. You get your degree, you build your skills, you gain experience, you write up what may even be an impressive resume and you go looking for a job. You have confidence and maybe you even have a great personality and interview really well.

Then it doesn’t happen. The phone doesn’t ring. You sit in limbo not knowing if you applied too early and they just haven’t gotten to that stage yet, or if you applied too late and they already had their eyes on someone else. You’re likely wrong. They got your application and they still didn’t call.

The Problem

Let’s take a minute to examine your weak spot, the cover letter. How do I know it’s your cover letter? In this market where countless throngs of people can apply to an obscure and unique position the resumes tend to blur together. Name, skills, education, work history, and possibly service. Yes you should have a volunteer or community engagement section of your resume.

Note: All of the common sense advice still applies. Spell correctly, use proper grammar, and format it properly.

Most Common Mistakes

You Used a Form Letter

While it may be convenient and help you apply to 12 jobs in an hour while you sit at a Starbucks, a scattershot is only good if it has the power to reach your audience. If I can take your letter and just swap out the company name and the job title that you are applying to (if you even included that) I don’t care about your letter. Chances are it has the same content as your resume and it is either too short or peppered with jargon. God do I hate jargon and any hiring manager who does like jargon will have communication issues.

Advertisement

You Didn’t Do Your Homework

Okay, so form letters are out, what are you supposed to fill the page with? One way to capture the reader is to indulge them in their own self interest. You may not know who is the hiring manager or who is on the search committee, but you better believe those people have an ego that can be stroked. Find out everything you can about this job. Drill down as far as you can. Talk about the company and what you like about it. Reference their mission or recent accomplishments. If you are applying to a specific division, go ahead and acknowledge that divisions importance to the company. If you know the department, talk about their operations and how you can fit in.

I really can’t stress this enough. I’ve seen countless people apply to jobs who just assume everything they need to know is in the job title. I’ve seen executives apply to positions just slightly above entry level because they didn’t understand the institutional structure.

Advertisement

Other items you might want to do homework on:

  • Salary requirements on both sides, not for your letter but always good to be aware of.
  • Do you know someone at this company? Before you reference them, make sure they are liked in the work place. Just because he’s your brother in-law doesn’t mean dropping his name will get you far. It may backfire. Knowing the boss is even riskier, not everyone likes their boss. Maybe you just go with the fact that you’ve talked to people who work there and they like the place.
  • Who are they replacing and what does the internet say about them?

You Said Irrelevant Things / Repeated Yourself

Your life may contain many growth experiences, but tailer your stories and work experience to the task at hand. Employers probably don’t care at this moment about your semester abroad ten years ago unless you are applying to an international education program or an ex-pat job.

Advertisement

There are only so many ways to say that you think you’ll be a great fit for the position, so say it once, any way you want, and then back it up with evidence. Don’t be afraid to show a little personality. Repeating things doesn’t make them true. Those repeated statements become less and less relevant each time you say them. That’s why I save it for the end, after the evidence is presented, but that’s just a personal choice.

Good Luck Next Time

So, next time you’re getting ready to hit that submit or send button remember that someone may actually read what you are submitting. Do everyone a favor and make it a good read. Talk about them a little, talk about yourself a little, and show some interest and personality along the way.