5 Cover Letter Blunders That Kill Your Chances

You’ve polished your resume to no end, especially after finding a great job posting that seems tailor-made for your leadership skills. But did your cover letter merit the same attention?

Many hiring managers use your cover letter to gauge your interest in the company, as well as to measure your aptitude for the job.

Therefore, when you resort to “Dear Sir, I’m interested in your open job, here’s my resume,” you’re missing out on a critical chance to persuade employers to take you seriously for a top leadership role.

These 5 cover letter mistakes and omissions can quickly knock you out of consideration for the job you crave:

1 – Your opening line lacked punch.

“I am a Software Product Manager with 14 years leading product development teams” or “In response to your ad for an Operations Director, I have enclosed my resume” really aren’t compelling enough to use as opening statements.

Instead, try a hook that makes the hiring manager pay immediate attention, as in these examples:

“As Vice President Business Development, my relentless drive for sales success has brought revenue from zero to $40M—and I’m ready to deliver the same results for you.”

“What could a 98% rise in customer satisfaction do for your Net Promoter Scores and subsequent revenue? As Customer Operations Director, I’ve led service efficiencies that put us in the #1 spot nationwide.”

The idea is to speak precisely to the employer’s pain points while describing the performance impact you’ve had in previous roles.

Each of these opening lines quickly references the job being pursued, with a specific title and metrics-driven, peak career accomplishment meant to entice the reader.

Your opening line should also leverage the research you’ve done on the company, per the next point.

2 – You didn’t address the company’s problems.

Rattling off a list of competencies isn’t strong enough to distinguish you from other candidates, but speaking directly to the company’s needs will do the trick.

You have to dig into the company’s history, press releases, annual reports, and other news to figure out their pain points. It’s fairly simple to run a Google search on “ABC Company News” to see what’s come up over the past few months.

Is the company opening new offices? Were earnings down in previous quarters? What do industry analysts say about the company’s future and their business strategy?

Armed with this information, you’re able to connect your leadership skills to the employer’s needs much more succinctly:

“My ability to produce business development results (30% rise in cloud-based solution sales during Q4 2010) can address any struggles you’ve had in breaking into this market. Can we talk?”

3 – Your key points don’t match (or exceed) the job requirements.

Like resumes, cover letters must be precise and direct the reader… keeping them attentive to the reasons they should hire you and the edge your work can give them.

While you’re writing, put the job description in front of you to remind yourself what the employer is seeking. Then, look for ways to point out how you can surpass these expectations, rather than pointing out the obvious (“My qualifications include a Master’s degree from Iowa State University”).

The following example is taken from an IT Director cover letter:

“Your ad noted that you require a leader in service delivery and customer satisfaction. My career includes 3 years of 97% satisfaction ratings, achieved by improving infrastructure and network capacity, and I hold responsive service as my #1 priority.”

4 – You addressed the letter to “Dear Sir.”

Taking the time to locate a name will help your letter reach the right person, with a stronger impact – plus, your letter will be read by an actual person!

In fact, finding a contact name in your target employers has never been easier. First, you can use LinkedIn’s Advanced People Search function to put in the employer name, then fill in the Keywords box to find potential contacts.

For example, a Business Development Manager might look for keywords such as “VP Sales or COO” to identify the next-level manager contact, while an IT Product Director can try to find the CIO’s name.

If you don’t find a name through LinkedIn, be sure to check Zoominfo.com, Spoke.com, or the company About Us page. If you have access to Hoover’s database or Dun & Bradstreet, you can also use these resources to locate company insiders.

In addition, ReferenceUSA.com is a free contact name database available through many public libraries, and requires only your library card for access.

5 – Your closing was too passive.

Especially if you’re pursuing an executive or senior-level role, employers like to see a take-charge style (the same one you’ll use to deal with vendors or your new team). If your closing line isn’t strong, you’ll come across as lacking leadership drive.

“Thank you in advance for reviewing my credentials” is certainly polite and professionally stated.

However, “I look forward to describing how I plan to exceed your requirements as Executive Vice President of Sales” and “Offer me a personal interview, and I will share ideas on how I can boost your IT capabilities as CIO, while reining in costs” are both stronger.

Even more intense, “I will be in touch with you next Tuesday” shows definite intent on your part to influence the hiring audience, and gives them advance notice of the proactive steps you’ll take to secure the interview.

To summarize, there’s no reason to settle for a bland, one-size-fits-all cover letter that blends in with the others.

Your job search will fare better when you zero in on the hiring audience with an unforgettable opening—especially when it draws a parallel between employer needs and your value proposition.

Laura Smith-Proulx, award-winning executive resume writer and founder of An Expert Resume, is a former recruiter who partners with CIO, CFO, CCO, COO, CTO, CEO, SVP, and Director candidates to win top jobs at Fortune-ranked corporations. A credentialed Professional Resume Writer, Career Management Coach, Interview Coach, Social Networking (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter) Career Strategist, and Personal Branding Analyst, she is the author of How to Get Hired Faster: 60+ Proven Tips & Resources to Access the Hidden Job Market, with work featured in 8 career bestsellers. She serves as a media source to Wall Street Journal FINS, CIO.com, AOLJobs.com, LocalJobNetwork.com, and other outlets.

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Comments

  1. Meagan says:

    Chances are good that the people most in need of these articles are those with the least experience writing cover letters and resumes, which I highly doubt include those going for something like a VP position. Maybe tailor your examples to positions a little lower on the heirarchy, say for positions that may not have such clear metrics associated with them.

    • Laura Smith-Proulx says:

      Meaghan,

      Thank you for your note! While nearly all candidates can use help writing a cover letter, you’d be surprised at how difficult this task is for executives and other leaders… so I beg to differ on your point.

      These leaders often have such an extensive work history that they’re not sure of the best way to “sell” their skills. (of course, as I work most often with executives, these are the types of examples that relate primarily to my audience.)

      For anyone lower on the corporate ladder, the same guidelines apply: think of how your work has impacted the company or department as a whole, not just your team, and write to the value you’ve produced. “My work has been instrumental in helping deliver marketing initiatives designed to increase our last-quarter earnings” demonstrates that you have spent time talking with leaders at the company about the results of your projects (or that you’ve been reading the annual report).

      This technique is particularly effective for positioning yourself to move up within an organization, because it shows your awareness of the challenges faced by your employers.

      I hope this is helpful to you!

      Kind regards,

      Laura

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