It has unfortunately been my experience with a few executive clients that they take the high-impact executive resume we developed and send it out “bare” to a potential employer — without a customized cover letter. This comprises the first, and often fatal cover letter self-sabotage:
1) No cover letter at all
Seriously now, especially when we are talking about executive-level roles, is someone positioning themselves as a serious candidate when they do not follow basic job search etiquette? This is enough for many hiring executives or recruiters to relegate a resume to the discard pile all by itself.
By the way, a generic email saying essentially “here’s my resume” does not qualify!
The above mistake sends up the first of several red flags that are all too common with regard to cover letters.
Here are a few others that can derail your candidacy:
2) Typos and grammar mistakes
These will jump out at your reader and immediately reek of a lack of professionalism. We all have spell and grammar checkers these days!
3) Failing to address questions raised by the resume
Your career history may involve gaps in employment, lack of direct experience in the position or industry, more than one short-term position, a recent change in career track, etc. These things can and often should be properly addressed in the cover letter, but be careful not to OVER-explain. And of course be sure to put a positive spin on things where you can.
4) Showing a lack of research or knowledge about the company or its industry
Assuming you know the company’s name, you of course want to research it and show that you have done so in your cover letter. If you don’t know the actual company name, you can at minimum demonstrate knowledge of the industry and its current dynamics, issues, opportunities.
5) Writing a novel
One to one and one-half pages max should be plenty. The cover letter is not a place to repeat everything that’s in your executive resume. It is a place to amplify that information as it relates to the specific employer and position in question.
6) Making it all about you
Talking excessively about yourself and your desires/goals versus what the employer wants and needs is a good way to make yourself appear self-centered. Avoid over-use of the “I” pronoun.
7) Failing to match your qualifications closely with the requirements of the role
It is critical to ensure that your cover letter supports how you will be able to meet the prospective employer’s needs, specifically.
8) Closing your letter passively
Don’t leave the ball in their court — it may never bounce back to you. Be sure to indicate how and when you intend to follow up.
While most employers and recruiters say they do not read cover letters (by some surveys as many as 90%), they still seem to WANT one.
More than half say they prefer candidates who provide a cover letter!