Cover letters can contain just as many red flags to a prospective employer as a resume – and can end your chances of getting an interview just as fast.
Cover letters, however, have a language all their own… often made worse by overly-verbose authors, dispensing too much information or not doing their homework.
So, to help you get much closer to an interview, here are the 7 phrases – or facsimiles thereof – we never want to see in your cover letter…
1. To Whom it May Concern
When unemployment sat at 3.2% perhaps this generic header – and others like it such as “Dear Sirs” – was acceptable. Now, with the availability of internet based research… there is no excuse. Through LinkedIn, Glassdoor and many other resources it is easily possible to determine the primary recruiter for most any position. At the very least, we can determine the name of the Human Resources director at a larger firm or the CEO of a start-up or non-profit.
Do your homework – and personalize your cover letter – or don’t expect an interview.
2. I Just Need a Chance
Maybe no one uses these exact words. However, this is the exact perception a recruiter gets when reading a cover letter written by someone dejected by circumstance, more than hungry for a chance to prove themselves – and those who have crossed over into full-blown “victim mode”.
Recruiters are looking for positive team members – to get an interview, you need to be that guy. Don’t allow your cover letter prove anything different.
3. Salary Expectations
Another left over from a different economy, the inclusion of salary requirements in a cover letter is a huge red flag – and usually the death of your consideration as a candidate. Recruiters often laugh this off as “premature negotiation.”
Get your foot in the door and survive the first interview, and then have the money conversation – and not before.
4. The Reason I Left…
This phrase comes in many forms – although almost every veteran recruiter has seen this exact phrase in a cover letter. Sometimes, the phrase is harmless. Other times, these words signify a less-than-desirable candidate who… in the next few words… is going to give away too much, deliver a therapeutic (for them) monologue or bash a former employer.
You’ll have plenty of time to discuss this issue with the recruiter. For now, talk about what you can do at this job – not about what happened at the last.
5. Objective Statement
This archaic sentence from the 1970’s only serves to show how out-of-date you may be as a candidate. Perhaps even worse, instead of helping you get the interview, objective statements can provide a reason for the recruiter to reject you. The worst offender: generic objective statements not tailored to a specific job or application.
6. References Available Upon Request
This one is right up there with the “objective statement” – and should only be seen in an Applicant Antique store. After all, what is the opposite: that you have no references available to support your candidacy? In our digital world, if you don’t have several superb references already lined up for the recruiter… well, you can’t win.
7. It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…
Okay. No one would ever actually use this phrase in a cover letter. Instead, think of this as a metaphor for every attempt to tell a long-winded story to either sell the candidate through analogies or a biography that begins at childhood. Trust me, when a recruiter sees even a hint of a story like this, their eyes go into “scan only” mode. Not good.
Resist all temptation to tell a story. Instead, write about your ability to solve their problems – and why you are the best candidate for the position.
Go take a look at your cover letter. Are any of these mistakes present? More important, what will you do differently next time you craft a cover designed to help you earn an interview?
About the Author: A passionate supporter of Gen Y talent, CEO and Founder of YouTern Mark Babbitt is a serial entrepreneur and mentor. Mark has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Forbes and Under30CEO regarding internships, higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce and career development. Recently, Mark was honored to be named to GenJuice’s list of “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors”. You can contact Mark via email or on Twitter.