Do You Make These 4 Cover Letter Mistakes?

woman reacts to mistake as she sits on couch with laptop 

By Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter

Some people meticulously write their resume but then treat their cover letter as an afterthought, resulting in a mistake-riddled, dull and underperforming document. It's important to ensure that your job search tool kit is fully equipped with high-quality, well-honed marketing messages that are blunder-free. The following four cover letter mistakes -- and accompanying remedies -- will help sharpen your cover letter saw.

1. Using a generic salutation: While it is not always possible to obtain the name of the cover letter recipient, often, with a little digging, you can!

The fix: One example is to use LinkedIn. Let's say you discover an opening for an electrical engineer position at an engineering organization's website. The position description indicates the employee will report to the lead electrical engineer. You decide (initially) to bypass the company's automated application system so you can customize your communications.

You sail over to LinkedIn and begin researching. Use the advanced search feature and type in "name of company" for the company name, "lead electrical engineer" for keywords and "64152″ for a ZIP Code for greater Kansas City (where the company headquarters and this position are located) and click enter. Your results will appear.

Search within your first- or second-tier contacts. You want to be sure to land on the contact with lead electrical engineer in the title. You will have access to that person's first and last name. This information, along with the company's mailing address which you can generally pick up at a corporate website, will equip you to create a custom-addressed letter.

This is just one of many examples to research contact names that will help you tailor your cover letter versus writing a generic "Dear Hiring Manager" salutation. Another method is to use Glassdoor's Inside Connections feature that finds any connections to companies you search for through your friends on Facebook.

2. Peppering the letter with 'I': While the cover letter touts your value, you should be familiar with the reader's areas of pain and heartily address their needs with your solutions.

The fix: While it is nearly impossible not to use the words "I" or "my" in the cover letter, you can slant the tone and construct your sentences to better reverberate with the reader's needs. For example, instead of launching into a diatribe of "I did this" or "I did that," you might lead into a letter with something like:

"Simplifying complicated information in measurable, digestible ways to align stakeholders is my talent." Notice how "my" is used, but the sentence does not lead with the first person possessive.

Also, consider directly connecting the dots of your traits with the current industry or market need. For example: "With more than 15 years' technology process management experience, I've learned to cut through the fog and chart a clear course. Clarifying routine processes versus necessary processes has sharpened investigative abilities ... (etc.). These traits are particularly imperative in the current tumultuous economic client."

3. Droning on and on: Putting every thought, including the kitchen sink, into your letter will lose the reader's interest.

The fix: Put your content through the so-what filter as you write; however, you don't want to stifle your creativity by trying to build a perfect letter out of the gate. Assuming that you are fairly focused on your target goal by the time you get to the letter-writing stage, the initial draft should be somewhat on point. That said, self-editing is crucial. Read through your letter several times. Use a red pen, ruthlessly. Trim, edit, augment, focus. Corral the cover letter into a four-to-five-paragraph format, and use bullets to showcase certain information. Keep it to one pithy page, if possible.

4. Running out of steam: It is tough to close a story well. And, like your resume, a cover letter is a mini-story that needs a clean, compelling close. Don't make the mistake of running out of steam at the end of your letter and relying on easy, but typically boring endings. This is not only uninteresting, but it makes you look lazy.

The fix: Research other people's letters to get the creative juices flowing. Some professional resume writers publish cover letter samples on their site. Do not steal other people's language; instead, use the language as a launch pad to stimulate your own! While your closing should be sincere, it shouldn't be bland. Pretend you are talking with the person face to face. What would you say to display your enthusiasm (not desperation) for the opportunity at the end of the conversation? You would be politely persistent, right? Show the same vigor in the written word!

Important tips for résumés and interviews after military service

Female soldier with folder looking away
By Brett Harris, special to CareerBuilder

As a veteran, you typically bring a wealth of skills to the table that a civilian job applicant can’t. Military service teaches you leadership, teamwork, decision-making and even engineering and technology. And yet, CNN reports that veteran unemployment rates are almost always 2 percent higher than the national average, and 34 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are unemployed for more than a year after returning home.
It’s not that employers aren’t interested in military veterans. They just often misunderstand what a veteran applicant is capable of, because the applicant either downplays their military experience or doesn’t know how to explain it. In order to enter the job market successfully, you must represent yourself well on paper and in person.
1. Set clear career goals
For both veterans and civilians, one of the biggest challenges in writing a résumé is making it specific to the industry you want to pursue. Veterans can have even more trouble with this because they come from such a wide variety of backgrounds and have a wide variety of specialties. Veteran career resources such as counselors and coaches can help you figure out exactly what kind of work you want to do and what you’re most qualified for. They can also help you figure out if you need further education or training to get the job you want.
2. Make a résumé that speaks to employers’ needs
The secret reality of job hunting is that most people don’t have one résumé. They have several variations of their résumé that are tailored to the different positions and employers they apply for. When you’re interested in applying to a company, research everything you can. Find out what skills they’re looking for and what skills are needed for the position in question and then tailor your résumé to highlight your qualifications. Applying to work in marketing is much different than applying to work in accounting, and applying to work at a large corporation is different from applying to work for a small and growing business.
3. Show your personality
Employers have the same support and admiration for the military as most civilians, but the unfortunate truth is sometimes veterans can be a little intimidating. In job interviews, make sure you speak about your military career as only one aspect of your life and experiences. A face-to-face interview gives you the opportunity to show that military officers are people just like everyone else — they just usually have more life experience, discipline and skills than the average applicant. Be proud of your veteran status and flaunt your abilities. Don’t go into too many confusing details or discuss some of the more harrowing things you might have seen, but do make sure you’re highlighting the positive aspects of your service.
4. Be willing to learn
Preparing for a job interview usually involves rehearsing your answers to the most common questions. You should know how to break your skills down to the most basic description and give examples of when you used them effectively. But you should also prepare plenty of questions to ask the interviewer. Show her how well you’ve researched the company and how enthusiastic you are about the prospect of working there. Serving in the military is a great way to show you’re a team player, so your questions and answers should revolve around what you can bring to the business as a whole. No matter what your skills are, you can always improve and expand on them in the workplace.
Finding a job after you come home can be nerve-wracking. Luckily, there are plenty of VA services that can help you with your questions and start you on the path to finding the civilian life you always wanted. After serving your country, you deserve to find success.

How to prepare for applying on a form application

By Debra Auerbach, 
Form applications may bring back memories of jobs you had in high school or college. But the truth is that many jobs you'll apply for today will require applications. It's a company's way of getting standard information from every applicant and ensuring uniformity and fairness for all who apply.
While filling out a job application often seems like the easiest step in the hiring process, if you aren't prepared or don't fill out the form accurately you could end the process before it even begins.

Here are some tips to make sure you ace the form application step.
Prepare common answers ...

Submitting an application may be the first thing you do for some job opportunities, but other times you might not get the application until you go in for an interview. If that's the case, make sure you're prepared so you can fill out the form quickly and completely.
In a Microsoft Word document, create a list of information that's often requested in an application, and make sure the list is easily accessible whenever and wherever you may fill one out. Consider emailing the list to yourself so you have it when you're on the go.
Some common fields on an application may include:
  • Name
  • Address
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Social security number
  • Driver's license/state ID
  • Employment history (e.g., names and dates of positions held, reasons for leaving)
  • Education and experience (e.g., schools attended, degrees, graduation date, skills acquired)
  • Salary
  • References
  • Ability to upload or copy/paste a résumé
... But don't assume all applications are the same.

If you're filling out an application for what seems like the millionth time, you may go on autopilot and answer questions the same way on each form. Make sure to read each new application thoroughly, because there may be a few questions either worded a different way or asking for different types of information than the previous application you just submitted.
Tackle tricky questions.

While most questions on an application are pretty standard and straightforward, some may be a little trickier to answer than others. One such culprit is the salary question. Whether the form asks for current salary, salary range or salary minimum, make sure you're being accurate and that you're comfortable with the number you include.
"It's best to include your minimum expectation for compensation," says Emily Hofer, chief human resources officer at Arise Virtual Solutions Inc., a work-at-home business process outsourcing company. "This needs to be something you can be comfortable with and will accept ... do not sabotage yourself by including a low number, thinking you can negotiate up when the offer comes in ... this only leads to distrust later in the process."
So how do you determine that number? "When the always fearful 'desired salary' question comes up, the applicant should use salary index sites ... to get an idea [of] what 'Job X' is worth," says Joshua Siva, author of "BOLD: Get Noticed, Get Hired." Siva also suggests calculating your expenses and financial goals and determining a number that, if offered, is one with which you'd be happy, you'd have enough to get by financially and you'd be able to live comfortably.
Stand out.

It may seem nearly impossible to stand out on a form application, but you can find small ways to impress. Show that you've done your research on the company by including some thoughts in a "comments" or "additional information" section, if available. For instance, you could say something like, "I noticed the company just won business with X beauty company. I have seven years of experience working with beauty and lifestyle clients."

Financial Analyst Cover Letter

Many people write cover letters that state that they are good communicators, hard working, loyal, dedicated, team players, etc. While these are important traits for a job seeker, when these words are used in cover letters they come across as suspect. So many candidates use the same words to describe their personal attributes that it is hard to tell who really possesses these characteristics and who is just including these words because they think they are supposed to or because it sounds good.

The best way to demonstrate that you possess a personal attribute that will be important to a hiring manager is to have someone else advocate on your behalf. By including an excerpt from a letter of recommendation, performance review, or LinkedIn endorsement you can more authentically get your point across and prove to a prospective employer that you are someone who is well-liked and can be trusted.

For Lucy's letter, we used a quote from her boss that showed her tenacity, integrity, and attention to detail... all important characteristics for finance professionals.
Lucy Smith
8 Ingram Street • Forest Hills, NY 11375 • 718-222-3333 •
"Lucy is relentless in her cost control efforts and always follows up. She is brave enough to stand firm and make unpopular decisions when they are the right course of action." – Controller, Bank XYZ
Name / Title
Dear Mr./Ms.:
As a Senior Analyst/Assistant Controller for Bank XYZ, reporting directly to the company's Controller and CFO, I have played a pivotal role in providing the financial support and guidance that has allowed the bank to grow from $2B to $10B with a 25-fold increase in net income. In this role, I have been charged with managing the general ledger, monthly closing, and SEC reporting and conducting extensive research and analysis to drive business decisions and tighten financial controls. My key accomplishments include:
  • Financial consolidation of 5 banks into one.
  • Comprehensive G/L conversion for 3 acquisitions.
  • Project management of G/L financial integration for SAP conversion.
  • Consolidation of multiple disparate accounting systems into one centralized system.
  • Conversion of several manual processes into automated query worksheets and new reporting processes.

In addition, I hold a Bachelor of Science degree in International Banking and I just completed my Master of Science degree in Banking in May. At this juncture, I am confidentially exploring opportunities as an Assistant Controller or Controller in the New York area. My resume is attached for your review. I look forward to a personal interview and thank you for your consideration.
Lucy Smith