As a recruitment professional one of the most common subjects I am asked about is the cover letter. It is a task that fills people with dread. I am often puzzled by how much difficulty people have writing this short letter attached to the front of their CV. The purpose of a cover letter is simple; highlight the main reasons you believe you are the right person for the job. Once you keep that in mind, writing a cover letter is pretty straight forward.

Employers typically spend a few seconds scanning a job application and, because of this, small errors can end up spoiling the chances of even the strongest candidate. These mistakes are easy to avoid once you know what they are. So with that in mind, here are my top 5 mistakes to avoid when writing a cover letter.

1. Using a Generic Cover Letter

Every cover letter you write should be written for one specific job application. Employers require different skillsets and different types of experience in their employees. Identify what employers value most and tailor your cover letter to meet those expectations each time you apply for a job.

2. Restating Everything on Your CV

The purpose of a cover letter is to draw the employer’s attention to the most relevant pieces of information on your CV and emphasise why that makes you the right candidate for the job. Rehashing your CV will lead to your cover letter being far too long. Three to four short paragraphs is the ideal length for a cover letter.

3. Not Describing What You Offer the Company

Your reasons for applying for a job should not be described in terms of what the company can offer you but in terms of the value you can bring to the company. You must demonstrate how your skills and experience will transfer to the company and improve the organisation.

4. Weak Opening Paragraph

The opening paragraph should clearly reflect who you are, your purpose for writing, and the main attribute that makes you right for the job. You can then expand on this in the next couple of paragraphs. A muddled and confused introduction will immediately limit your appeal in the eyes of the employer.

5. Not Proof Reading

Spelling and grammar errors are the simplest mistakes to make, but also the easiest to correct. Take 5 minutes to read through your cover letter, or ask someone else to take a look at it for you. Small mistakes in the cover letter make a poor impression and show a carelessness that employers will not find appealing. Remember that the spellcheck, while useful, will not necessarily find every mistake, so check it yourself as well.

Niall Murray

Managing Director

Collins McNicholas Recruitment & HR Services