Cover Letter Blunders

Having performed what I consider a great public service by helping demystify the exclamation point, semi-colon and colon in previous blog posts, I thought I would continue to help by giving lessons on cover letters and resumes.

I am not a professional resume writer–I don’t even play one on TV–but I have had success with my cover letters and resumes (as evidenced by the fact that I have been employed and am currently employed), and I have helped family members and friends with their resumes and cover letters too. Therefore, I must not suck at it. Besides, this is free help, which is great when you’re poor and unemployed (although, do remember that you get what you pay for).

We will first cover what not to do in a cover letter, using an honest-to-God real cover letter as an example.

Example:

My honesty, talents and punctuality make me a strong candidate for the position….

You’re supposed to have confidence, but telling me that your talents make you good for a job sounds like outright hubris—especially as these talents are not enumerated.

Correction:

Based on my past work experience and education, I believe I would be an excellent fit for the position.

And, by the way, this should be the conclusion to your cover letter, not the introduction.

I maintain all the maturity skills and experience that your are looking for and more; Production Office Clerk & Human Resource Secretary & Benefits Coordinator for a Generic Company for X + years.

WTF is “maturity skills?” I mean… what is it? It’s possible that the writer meant “maturity, skills, and experience.” People who can’t use commas are not wanted in legal document production. And blathering on about your maturity and skills without providing any examples is just that: blather. Yes, your resume lists these things in detail, but your cover letter should not be full of generic, meaningless statements. This is the place where you specifically highlight the things on your resume which you think the reader most needs to notice.

Bad goof #2: “Your are” is a grammar error. I had one cover letter that I sent out, with my basic info checked, double-checked and triple-checked for errors. That pretty much left only one paragraph which fluctuated from application to application, thus reducing the chance that I made a typo. If you are not good at grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc., have a friend/family member review your cover and resume for errors.

Goof #3: Using a semi-colon instead of a colon. (Confused about how to handle the two? Check out my previous posts on how to use a semi-colon and colon.)

Goof #4: Most of the jobs/titles listed should not be capitalized because they’re not actual titles. When you speak of being a secretary, you use a small “s,” because that’s a job, not a title. When you say that you are “Secretary to Vice President John Smith,” you use capital words, because that’s a title. If you aren’t sure if you’re talking about a job or a title, use small letters; that’s a safer bet.

Goof #5: Ampersand (&) usage. The only time you use an ampersand in a formal letter is if it’s part of a company name, or it’s how your actual title is listed  (example: CEO of Means & Production). Because the letter writer used ampersands, it looks like one long title, which is crazy, as I don’t think anyone had that as one job. Likely the LW had different positions at the company over the years, and each should have been separated by commas, not ampersands.

Goof #6: Use of a generic company description and capitalizing it to boot. You should not say “I was the secretary for an Automotive Dealership for 5 years.” Be specific; name the company (and when you use the company’s actual name, you can capitalize it!).

Goof #7: Poorly constructed sentence. When you say, “I have the skills which you are looking for” and follow that by a colon, what follows the colon should be a list of the skills. A list of job titles is not a list of skills; it’s a non sequitur (let’s play “learn legalese” today: non sequitur is Latin for “does not follow”).

Goof #8: Use of “+” in a formal letter. If you have worked at a job for more than ten years, but less than 11 (or you can’t quite remember how many years you’ve been a Widget Inspector, but you know for certain it’s been at least 15), you should say “over 10 years” or “more than 10 years.”

Note: In most formal letters and legal documents, you should always spell out numbers (“ten” instead of “10”), however, cover letters and resumes tend to be an exception. While it’s not incorrect to use words instead of numbers, it is generally better to use numbers, because it catches the attention–which is very important when you’re trying to get a job. In fact, most resume experts say the more things you can quantify and convert into numbers, the better.

What would the corrected paragraph look like?

I have extensive experience: I have worked as a production office clerk, Human Resources secretary, and benefits coordinator at Widgets-R-Us for over 10 years.

That’s still not how I would personally write a sentence in a cover letter, but you can see how I corrected the original into something that’s actually grammatically correct and cover letter-appropriate.

But the hits just keep coming:

If you agree after reading my cover letter and resume, that I am indeed the person your are looking for; please contact me.

Goof #1: Comma splice. There are two ways to fix this: either put a comma after “agree,” which creates a proper clause, or take out the comma after “resume.”

Goof #2: There’s “your are” again. This is clearly not a typo; the LW simply does not understand how to properly say “you are.” Major fail for a legal assistant.

Goof #3: Semi-colon splice. The LW used a semi-colon when a comma should have been used.

Goof #4: The entire sentence comes off as arrogant. You shouldn’t ask a potential employer to agree with you that you are the cat’s pajamas. Instead, you should phrase it more like this:

If you have any questions, or would like to meet, please do not hesitate to call me.

It used to be, before the Great Recession, that you would write “I will follow-up with you next Monday, April 8, 2011, at 9:00 AM,” but the job-hunting landscape has dramatically altered, and you are frequently not given contact information in job ads, or are specifically told “do not call.” I have a friend who works in HR, and she said, at the height of the recession, she received several hundred applications for one position. That is why people don’t want to be called.

My sincere appreciation for interrupting your many tasks.

This is a poorly constructed sentence. The LW is appreciative that she interrupted your tasks? What is meant is that she appreciates that you have interrupted your many tasks. If you want to convey this sentiment, try:

Thank you for taking the time to review my resume.

Now that we know some of the things not to do, tomorrow I will go over the anatomy of a cover letter and give you examples of what to do.

One comment on “Cover Letter Blunders

  1. […] Posted on April 29, 2011 by Keri Peardon Following up on my previous post–Cover Letter Blunders–here is how to make a cover letter. Again, I’m not a cover letter expert, but I am […]

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