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  • Lyndal Miller

Are you unwittingly sabotaging your career?

As someone with many years’ experience in Recruitment and HR, I ALWAYS read the cover letter of any job application first. If that doesn’t get my attention (for all the right reasons) then you are already starting on the back foot, with ground to make up before you even begin.

The thing is – Cover letters can be difficult to write. It’s hard to know what to say, yet we know that if we don’t say something that captures the reader’s attention, our application is very likely doomed.

Unfortunately I so often see many people either not writing one at all, or despite putting time and effort into writing one, getting them horribly wrong. Some in a fairly minor way that ultimately probably doesn’t squander their chances too drastically. Others however undoubtedly ensure their application is doomed for the trash.

Here are five of my ‘pet hates’ when it comes to Cover Letters, with some advice on how to fix or avoid them entirely:

1. Using the same cover letter for every application.

Hiring Managers want to hire people who have a real and genuine interest in working for their organisation, and they want to know what you can do for them. The cover letter is the perfect opportunity for you to present this to them. However, if you use the one generic cover letter (amending the company name and contact details only) you are effectively throwing this opportunity away.

What to do instead: Consider writing individually tailored cover letters when applying for jobs, and highlight how you meet the specific requirements the organisation is looking for. You are far better to send fewer applications away that precisely address how you can help the organisation, than sending a gazillion standardised applications that in all reality simply demonstrates you are simply ‘going through the motions’. Think quality – not quantity!

2. It’s all about you and what YOU want.

So many of the cover letters I've read over the years talk about what the job seeker wants in his or her next role. “I’m looking for a role in which I can learn and develop” and the likes. In reality the employer wants to know what in if for THEM if they hire you, not what you want. Once you are employed, this will very likely change and a good employer will almost certainly care about your personal development and how they can retain you in the business, but in the initial recruitment process, it really is all about them.

What to do instead: Instead of spelling out your needs and wishes in the cover letter, focus on what you can do for them. Research the role to gather as much information as you can, and then highlight how your background meets these requirements.

3. It reads like a legal document.

OK – so I’m absolutely pedantic on spelling, and I believe in a level of professionalism, regardless of the role, however, a cover letter that reads like a thesaurus has an effect on me akin to watching paint dry! It’s important that it’s polished and error free – but it has to be easy to read.

What to do instead: Use a readable and professional font in your Cover Letter and say what you need to say in a language that you would use if you were talking to the reader face to face. Make sure there are no grammatical or spelling mistakes – spellcheck, proofread, and then proofread again. There is never a more certain method of sabotaging your chances than by sending a sloppy and error ridden Cover Letter or CV.

4. Regurgitating your CV

Your CV speaks for itself. It outlines who you are as a professional and what you've achieved in your career. Your cover letter doesn't need to do this exact same thing. It should, instead, tie your skills and experience directly to what that employer is seeking. It should pique the interest of the reader and make them want to read your CV to find out more.

What to do instead: Use the Cover Letter to show the reader how, specifically, your background aligns with what they are seeking. Point out specific examples that demonstrate that you're a strong candidate.

5. It could have been written by a robot

I'm a firm believer that in any recruitment process, unless the role requires absolutely zero personality, in most instances people are actually looking to hire people they like. In order for them to ‘like’ you, it is important that you share some of who you are. You should use your personality in a way that positively influences their hiring decision.

What to do instead: Incorporate a little of your personality into your Cover Letter. Try using descriptive words and talk about things that mean something to you. Try and give the reader a glimpse of who you are.

Want more help? Contact me for further information on how My Coach can work alongside you to provide you with the skills and knowledge to create a compelling Cover Letter each and every time.

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