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The Anatomy of an Ineffective Cover Letter

- September 18, 2013

What does a truly bad cover letter look like? How about a cover letter that’s not a total train wreck, but can’t quite stand out from the crowd? We’ll talk about the anatomy of a terrible letter in a different post, but for now, here’s a quick guide to the individual elements of a mediocre cover letter—one that just can’t seem to make it over the bar.

If you’re sending out dozens of applications and resumes and you aren’t hearing back from employers more than once a month or so, review your letter with these guidelines in mind and see if you can make some adjustments.

The Greeting

The ineffective cover letter starts with a greeting that draws negative attention. The greeting of a cover letter really shouldn’t be noticeable. But hiring managers can’t help but notice greetings like these:

“Dear Sally Johnson,” (The hiring manager’s name is actually Sarah Jackson. Sally Jones is her assistant. The job seeker may have researched the company webpage, but they didn’t have the detail-orientation to write down the name correctly.)

“Dear Sir,” (What era is this job seeker living in?)

“Dear Company,” (Clearly this letter is part of a mass mailing, and the candidate couldn’t spare a few seconds to customize each letter, even just the greeting.

The First Sentence

An ineffective cover letter starts with a sentence that’s convoluted, messy, or missing important information. Here are a few examples:

“I have noticed your job posting on the internet and being a highly qualified associate marketing manager, this letter indicates my intention to apply for the position.”

“So you say you’re looking for an experienced marketing manager? Guess what!? I’m your guy! I’m the whole package: Smart, hard-working, driven, focused, and a real go-getter.”

“Please accept my intention to submit an application for the position of associate marketing manager in the Seattle area that was posted yesterday on the jobs page of your website for which I would like to apply.”

The Second Paragraph

The second paragraph of an ineffective cover letter rambles on and is often disorganized. It may also be peppered with out-of-place industry terms and business buzzwords. Watch out for phrases like these:

“I’ve worked in this field for ten years, first as an assistant, then as an associate, then as a management associate, then as an assistant associate manager, then as a technical associate, then as a…”

“I think that I would be an appropriate fit for the position due to my ability to cross-allocate data streams across multiple business channels using a finely-tuned strategic approach to goal-oriented information access.”

The Final Paragraph

The closing statement of an ineffective cover letter is usually too demanding, abrupt, or flowery. It often suggests the image of an awkward person who doesn’t know exactly how to end a conversation and walk away. It may contain phrases like these:

“That’s why I believe I would make a good match for the position. Sincerely, (Applicant’s name).”

“Please review my attached resume and contact me for an interview. Thank you.”

“My attached resume offers more information about my credentials. Please review it. I am awaiting your feedback.”

The Layout & Formatting

A poorly formatted cover letter looks messy and cluttered on the page, and it presents information in a way that’s jumbled and hard to follow. By the time a reader reaches the last sentence, he’s already forgotten the core message of the letter and the applicant’s most important skills and accomplishments.

To prevent your readers from moving onto the next application in the stack without a backward glance, keep your format and your message clear and compelling. For help, visit MyPerfectResume and use the tools on the site to streamline your credentials and present them in a strong, memorable, and professional way.

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One response to “The Anatomy of an Ineffective Cover Letter”

  1. […] of the time, there’s no need to use your cover letter to bring up anything that might be an obvious deal-breaker. For example, if you’re going to need a salary that you don’t think this company can afford to […]

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