As a small business owner, I get a lot of speculative applications for jobs or internships.
Now, I don’t actually HAVE any jobs or internships to offer someone, so I’m at a bit of a loss to understand WHY I get so many of these, but that’s beside the point, because get them I do, and, well, let’s just say it’s a good job I’m not looking to hire anyone right now. If the covering letters I receive are anything to go by, I’d be in for a long, hard search, and it’s actually quite surprising to see people make the same, very basic, mistakes over and over again.
Here are 5 basic mistakes to avoid when you’re writing a covering letter:
// NOT ACTUALLY INCLUDING A COVERING LETTER
Well, I DID say they were basic, didn’t I? You’re probably thinking no one would ever do this, but you’d be wrong: just yesterday, in fact, I received an email with the subject line “Work Experience /Internships”. There was a document attached, which had the name “Alison’s CV”* (*name changed to protect the guilty!), but I didn’t bother to open it – not just because I don’t actually have any internships to offer, but because the email which accompanied this CV was completely blank. There was absolutely nothing to tell me why “Alison’s CV” should be of interest to me, and I don’t generally trust attachments from unknown senders anyway, so it went straight to the trash, un-opened. If ‘Alison’ had just spent a few minutes writing a short email to accompany that attachment, she might have been able to pique my curiosity and persuade me to take a look – but she didn’t, so I’ll never know.
// IGNORING ANY INSTRUCTIONS
As I said, I’m not currently hiring, but I have hired writers in the past, and any time I’ve done so, I’ve always spent a lot of time writing an advert that sets out exactly what I’m looking for, and tells people how I’d like them to apply. And every single time, I’ve then had to wade through dozens of applications from people who didn’t follow the instructions – and, in fact, who obviously didn’t even READ them.
I know a lot of people probably think they’re demonstrating “initiative” by doing this kind of thing, but, as far as I’m concerned, all they’re REALLY demonstrating is an inability to follow instructions. No matter how great their covering letter is, I’m probably still going to be reluctant to hire them, because the fact that they either didn’t read my instructions, or just disregarded them, on the assumption that they knew better, is a real red flag: it tells me the person is probably going to be difficult to work with, and that I’m going to have to keep on repeating myself, just to get them to listen. Who wants that in an employee?
// CRITICISING THE PROSPECTIVE EMPLOYER IN YOUR COVERING LETTER
Now you’re REALLY thinking I’m making this up, aren’t you? I wish I was, but sadly, nope: it hasn’t happened for a while now, but a few years ago, when I ran a larger number of websites, I used to occasionally get speculative applications from people pointing out a typo or mistake in one of my articles, ripping me to shreds, and then trying to tell me I should employ them as an editor/proofreader. I remember one such application, which had the subject line, “You need me: you really, really need me!”, and which then went on to lambast me for my “terrible” spelling of words like “neighbour” and “colour” – which EVERYONE knows should be “neighbor” and “color”. Of course, those spellings are perfectly correct for UK English (my would-be employee was from the States, and didn’t know we spell some words differently over here), but even if they had’t been, I’d NEVER have employed someone who contacted me in such a rude way. As in the point above, if I’m going to be working with someone, I have to be able to get along with them, and an unpleasant or superior attitude isn’t going to get you the job, no matter how good you think you’d be at it.
// NOT CHECKING SPELLING AND GRAMMAR
Earlier this week I received an application from someone who described themselves as a “freelance write” who wanted to work for ShoeperWoman.com. Now, it’s just one missing letter, and ordinarily I wouldn’t bat an eyelid at it (I actually really dislike it when people point out tiny mistakes, and try to make a huge deal of them), but this is a mistake in an application for a writing job. The most important quality a writer can have is the ability to write. The second most important quality a writer can have is the ability to proofread. (Yes, I know there are probably mistakes in this very article that I haven’t picked up on, but I’m not the one applying for a job here…) If you can’t get it right, even in a job application, I’m hardly going to be able to trust you to get it right the rest of the time, am I?
// NOT TAILORING YOUR COVERING LETTER TO THE COMPANY YOU’RE APPLYING TO
A lot of job applicants just write one covering letter and then blast it to dozens of different employers, normally with something like, “Dear Sir/Madam” as the opener. I get that it’s time-consuming to apply for jobs, but when I see that line, I don’t even read the rest of the letter, because, to be totally blunt, if you couldn’t be bothered to take a quick look at my website, why should I be bothered to take a quick look at your letter or CV? Once again, you’re demonstrating that you’re someone who doesn’t pay attention, doesn’t bother with research, and who couldn’t even address me by my name? Thanks, but no thanks…