6 Things That Make Your Cover Letter Suck

This article is part of a series called How to Write a Cover Letter. To start this series from the beginning, read the introduction.

Does your cover letter suck? Chances are if you’re applying to lots of jobs without a single call, then your cover letter is probably a stinker and most likely sucks.

I make no apologies for saying it like it is and dropping the “suck”-bomb. ‘Cause seriously, when you need a job and want an interview — and you’re no where close to an offer — it’s not like you say, “Ahhh shucks. That’s too bad. Now let’s go eat ice cream and play with kittens.” NO! You probably feel like s$it, wonder how you’re going to pay the rent, and cry, “Oh crap this sucks!”

Cover Letter Writing Series:
  1. Cover Letter Anatomy
  2. 6 Sucky Things
  3. 5 Rockin’ Things
  4. Cover Letter Formats
  5. Cover Letter Examples
  6. Free Cover Letter Templates

So yeah, I hear you. Landing a job interview isn’t easy, and it doesn’t take much for an otherwise solid set of skills to be tossed aside due to a few common mistakes. So here are 6 simple ways to convert your cover letter from suck to super.

1. To Whom It May Concern

Please, tell me to whom it may concern. I may not get very concerned if I’m not the right “to whom.”

I often wonder what job seekers are thinking when they address their cover letter “To Whom It May Concern.” Don’t you know? Have you no clue who to target with your job application? You’d better. In today’s crappy economy you’ve got to get your salutation right and make sure your application lands on the right person’s desk. Ohh, and copping out with a generic “Dear Sir/Madam” doesn’t cut it either. People generally like to be addressed as themselves, so if you want the job then get specific with your salutation.

BAD

  • To Whom It May Concern,

GOOD

  • Dear Ms. Taylor,

BAD

  • Dear Sir/Madam,

GOOD

  • Dear Human Resources Manager,

If you don’t know who to address your cover letter to then take a gander at the job listing. Chances are the right contact person is listed right there in the job description. If you’re still clueless then research the employer to get the details or address your application to a job title.

The cover letter that best addresses and engages the reader gets the job interview.

2. Desperation

Being desperate doesn’t work in dating. Desperation doesn’t work in cover letters either. Don’t be that guy (or gal) who begs for an interview and tries to bargain for the job. You may desperately need the job, but the more desperate you sound the more likely you’ll turn off the person you’re supposed to impress. Icky.

BAD

  • Please give me a call ANYTIME for an interview. I promise to be the best employee you have ever hired. I desperately want this job.

GOOD

  • I am very interested in Company ABC’s Software Developer position and believe my programming skills in C++ are an excellent fit for the job. Company ABC has an excellent reputation and I welcome the opportunity to meet with you for an interview.

When asking for an interview be sure to sell your skills and cite your qualifications. Check your desperate emotional desires at the door. Nobody wants to date desperate. Nobody wants to hire desperate either.

3. False Qualifications

Career cheaters and cover letter liars get caught eventually, so don’t do it. We all want to be viewed in the best possible light, but falsifying your job application to get ahead is a sure-fire way to get fired.

BAD

  • Saved the company from filing bankruptcy by making several million dollar sales to Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

GOOD

  • Increased sales of user software by 32% in 6 months.

The best way to sell your skills and qualify your qualifications is to share numerical facts with employers. Write percentages, dollar amounts, and numbers to best explain your accomplishments and you won’t feel the need to falsify your cover letter.

4. Too Personal

Do you offer personal photo links or websites on your cover letter? Don’t. No hiring manager wants to accidentally stumble upon pictures of your Brazilian wax on Facebook. Hiring managers want to get to know you on a professional basis. They don’t want to know all about your personal hair removal remedies even if they are applicable to the job.

BAD

  • I have 3 years of experience with self waxing and would be an excellent addition to your Spa team. I don’t have professional training but if you want photos, check out my Facebook page to really get a good look.

GOOD

  • I am submitting my resume for consideration towards the Esthetician position at Relax Body Spa. My four years of cosmetology experience make me an ideal candidate for this position. My professional portfolio is available via www.example.com

Keep your cover letter professional and your personal life private by offering information that showcases your abilities without revealing too much. If you’ve got an online portfolio, be sure to remove all private content before submitting it on your application. The job seeker who can navigate the fine line between personal and private in today’s internet age gets the job interview.

5. Ego Centric

Is your cover letter all about you, yourself, and more you? Well, you’re sucking big time with this fatal ego centric error. News flash: Your cover letter isn’t about you. It’s about how you fit the employer’s job requirements. What can you do for the employer? What does an employer gain from hiring you? If you’ve got the goods then tone them down by letting your accomplishments boast for you.

BAD

  • I was undeniably the best accountant in my graduating class.

GOOD

  • In my graduating year of college I received the Gold Medal for Accounting Excellence. This scholastic achievement meets your New Graduate academic requirements.

Share your accomplishments, skills, and qualifications in a way that showcases you as the perfect fit for the job, not as an ego-centric buffoon.

6. Missing Resume

It really sucks when you put a lot of work into your cover letter but forget to submit your resume. Snicker. I understand the excitement of pulling the trigger and sending your application to a prospecitve employer — but forgetting to send your resume is sloppy. Just.Don’t.Do.It. Most employers won’t give you the time of day if you can’t even submit your resume right. Sorry.

Final Things

There you have it. Six of the suckiest things commonly found on cover letters today. These six just tip the list though, so check out these other resume writing deadly don’ts to help you get onto the hiring manager’s interview list!

Got a personal favorite you’d like to add to this cover letter hit list?

Your two cents:

  1. Financial Samurai October 13th, 2009

    I agree absolutely with your tips. Another thing to do is make yourself easily contactable.

    Nothing drives recruiters and managers more nuts when they can’t find your # to call, or address to e-mail.

    Hope to see you over at FS one day Kerry.

  2. Catgurl October 13th, 2009

    Great tips and reminders Kerry!

    Another thing that I cannot stress enough is proofread, proofread proofread! There is nothing worse for an employer to receive a cover letter with mistakes on it. Especially if you are applying for jobs that require a lot of detail work.

    Since it is so easy to copy and paste sections on a cover letter, it is easy to make mistakes. Sending a letter to one employer with another one’s name is a common mistake I see! This usually happens when one is applying for a few jobs that are similar in duties and nature.

  3. Treva October 13th, 2009

    I have been job hunting recently and I’ve had several companies that post “Send resume and letter of interest to Human Resources at XYZ….” I often email the HR department and ask to whom may I address the letter and 9 times out of 10 they will not give me a name. I will also spend up to an hour, depending on how extensive it is, searching the website for the information. Yes, I could pick someone from a list of executive staff members and address it to one of them, but that could be as deadly a mistake. So I follow the advice of the HR department. At least they know I attempted to go a step beyond.

  4. Paul @ FiscalGeek October 13th, 2009

    Or how about the classic mixing cover letters. I’ve seen that one plenty, and totally with Catgurl, there’s no excuse for typo’s. Great post Kerry!

  5. Studenomist October 13th, 2009

    My co-op coordinator is as “straight shooter” as it gets for a 60 year old man. He looked over my cover letter draft and tore it apart as if I burned his home down. He told me that if I plan on using the same cover letter for every job posting he will kick my ass and kick me out of the program. One thing I will always remember is to customize every cover letter to the specific job posting and job requirements.

    HR professionals know what a standard or routine cover letter is. Don’t think you can send the same cover letter with a bunch of big words to 20 different companies.

  6. Canadian CC October 13th, 2009

    Great Post!

    However, I would wonder if you would include your blog as a reference of your work in your cover letter or resume?

  7. Foxie - CarsxGirl October 14th, 2009

    Thanks for this little series, it’s been helpful. ;) I’ve had to do a resume/cover letter for my business communication class, so the tips were very helpful! (I’ve never honestly done a real attempt at a cover letter…. Heh.)

    Just wish I could’ve read the whole series before doing it, but it’s due today. D: At least it’s one more bad cover letter out of the way for me! (And this one just for a grade.)

  8. Kathryn October 14th, 2009

    I get the WORST writers blog when it comes to cover letters. I wish I could hire someone to write them for me!

    One time I got all creative and wrote a reflective piece in the cover letter. I didn’t hear back for 6 weeks and was kicking myself for taking such a risk. But then I heard back and was offered the job. The hiring manager said it was my cover letter which made her cry. (I wrote about how the death of a friend made me want to go into that line of work.)

  9. Bobby October 16th, 2009

    Get creative with your coverletter, take chances. Show you know something about the company. Get creative in the salutation if you can’t get a name. Stand out or perish.

  10. marci @ onlinecolleges October 22nd, 2009

    First time reader of your blog, came from moneymatekate. :) Great tips here. I agree – forgetting to attach the resume is a bust, and so easy to forget.

  11. Greg June 30th, 2011

    These tips are kind of obvious, but in today’s habit of sending applications out into some black abyss with little feedback, you don’t know if the reason you are not geting called back is due to your resume and cover letter being inefficent or something on the employer’s end.

  12. jodinesplace June 14th, 2012

    Great resume tips, I like the examples. Many sites don’t give you good examples on what to say.

    Do you have positive phrases for being fired? I was discharged, but it wasn’t for being a bad worker. I never been fired in 29 years of working.

  13. Gabrielle September 11th, 2012

    I’ve read your suggestions & tips – they’re great and a really big help. One thing that hasn’t been covered (or I missed it) is how to best list your employers when 1) you’ve had many decades of work experience in different fields and 2) your employment in a particular field is not consecutive. As an example, I have administrative and event planning backgrounds, have many years experience in both, but have gone back and forth (for valid reasons). In listing only the relevant employers for each field, it appears as though there are gaps in my employment. I’ve used a functional format for my resumes & have created one for each profession. Any Suggestions? Thanks!

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