5 Mistakes Never To Make on a Cover Letter

Career concept in word tag cloud

When you are writing your cover letter, it is important to remember that your reader will likely have read dozens just like yours – all of which were trying to stand out just like you.  This reader will likely be bored and crabby, which means that they will probably be looking for excuses to weed you out.  In this situation, the worst mistakes are the kinds that make your letter boring or difficult to read.  Here are 5 such errors to avoid at all cost.

1.  Affect vs. Effect

If you’re writing a good cover letter, chances are that you will be discussing how you affected your past teams or what effect you had on a particular project.  The ‘affect’ your work had on the rising number of users will stand out like a sore thumb and hurt you rather than help you.

2.  Poor Salutation

Think back to those letters you get in the mail that start with Dear Resident.  Think about what your first impression is of a letter that starts out like that.  Probably that it is trash, right?  Well that’s what recruiters and hiring managers think when they see Dear Recruiter or Dear Hiring Manager.  Not only does it feel like a form letter, it also shows that you didn’t bother to figure out who you were supposed to address it to.  If you absolutely can’t find a name, don’t resort to a completely generic title.  It would be better to address the letter to Company Name Team or format your letter so that it does not need a salutation at all.

3.  Too Long

Unless you have truly world-changing experiences, your cover letter should never exceed one page.  In fact, the shorter the better.  This article from The Muse even says that the most successful cover letter in a job search experiment was only 150 words long.  Your cover letter is just your hook.  Save some for your resume and the rest for the interview.

4.  Repeating Your Resume

You already have your Resume to list your past jobs and education.  Spending valuable space on these things in your cover letter is redundant, and most importantly, a huge loss of opportunity.  Your cover letter is your opportunity to make the hiring manager like you.  Use your strengths to woo them.  Telling a story about a specific instance where your work made a big difference is a good strategy to use.  If you are writing a creative cover letter, you could even try out some humor (but be careful – you want them to laugh with you, not at you!).

5.  Cliches

Your game changing use of synergies or the sheer motivation you put forth is cliched and usually doesn’t even mean anything.  Can you prove to an employer that you are motivated?  Probably not.  Only claim things you can eventually relate back to an experience in your cover letter.  Throwing out buzzwords will make the reader’s eyes glaze over, and the next thing you know, your letter is in the ‘no’ pile.

Of course, always use your judgement.  Maybe you know for a fact that your cover letter is going through a buzzword scanner before your application goes further than a machine.  Maybe the company is too formal for a creative approach with the salutation or nontraditional letter formatting.  The most important thing to keep in mind is your audience: who are you writing to and how can you make yourself interesting to them?

An Interview with a Modern Day Renaissance Man

Arian Allenson Valdez won the #Awesome Slates Contest for the “Best Self-Paced Learning” with an outstanding demonstration of how he’s taken on the challenge of a full CS curriculum from Harvard. A self-described learner with “unquenchable curiosity,” Arian shares that he hopes to use Accredible to track his progress towards becoming a modern day Renaissance man — a secret ambition of all of ours, no? Read more to find out how Arian’s making it happen.

Accredible: You’ve taken a number of courses ranging from computer science and programming topics to even courses about Greek heroes. How do you decide on what courses to take?

Arian: I have, from an early age, known that my unquenchable curiosity will result in lifelong learning. My resolve is simple – to diversify as much as possible, to be a renaissance man in this day and age. I love tackling subjects where I could be ‘rusty’ at, and personally enjoy almost all of them! Except Chemistry.

“My resolve is simple – to diversify as much as possible, to be a renaissance man in this day and age.”

This is perhaps not readily obvious from my course choices (they are mostly after all CS courses), but that is because for this particular year, I am completing the Harvard Challenge, where I try to complete the whole coursework of a Harvard CS concentrator in one year. This is directly inspired from Scott Young’s MIT Challenge. There are a lot of differences in the way we tackle the courses, but the idea is the same:4 year curriculum in one year.

Accredible: What is your usual learning process like? (For example: do you like to watch things first & make notes? Try it out? etc.) And how does Accredible fit into your learning process?

Arian: I am almost always more efficient if I am using text, that is why, if possible I use a text-based only approach. Reading a video transcript is not terribly unheard of a strategy for me. However, there are cases where this can be quite detrimental to learning, so using one’s best judgement is still important. And besides, watching video lectures are always fun when quirky things happen! (Seeing Prof. Lewin of MIT carrying that huge femur bone at the start of his physics class is awe-inspiring, and Sir Malan misspelling ‘caterpillar’ and the reactions afterward made me laugh!).

I actually use Accredible as a macro strategy. Accredible is a journal of your learning. I think it would be quite beautiful to see one day a slate showing a video of someone barely hitting the right keys in the piano, while another shows the same person playing grand pieces! Looking back and seeing the growth in skill and knowledge would be priceless!

Accredible: What do you do when you’re struggling with learning something? What advice do you have for people who want to stay motivated? 

Arian: As a person with ‘unquenchable curiosity’ the fact that I’m struggling in learning something is an end for itself for me to stay motivated in learning that! That’s not to say I don’t struggle and lose motivation though.

“the fact that I’m struggling in learning something is an end for itself for me to stay motivated”

For people who have a problem in learning something, then I would say the foundations were probably not solid enough. There are exceptions, but most of the time, DO make sure that you have a solid base for learning. I made this mistake in the past, where I was very curious about Quantum Mechanics and decided to study about it without having the necessary prerequisites (I was in grade school at the time!) While I did learn a few concepts here and there, the efficiency was appallingly bad. I would have learned more in the same amount of time if I studied the prerequisite first and then moved on.

This is probably where the concept of Meta-Learning will come in, basically learning about learning, how to be more efficient and stuff. Tim Ferris’ 4 Hour Chef has quite section in meta learning, and I suggest for people who wish to improve start from there (Scott Young’s blog also has great material!) Gaining Motivation is also discussed in the book.