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To Whom It May Concern: Avoiding Common Cover Letter Problems

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Even in our rapidly evolving digital age, some elements of courtesy and professionalism remain constant. Your cover letter and your resume may be delivered by email, uploaded to a website, faxed, mailed, or send by telepathic transmission, but no matter the format, they still need to communicate the same essential message using the old fashioned rules of the English language. These two vital application documents need to convince employers that you’re qualified to hold the job at hand, and that you’re competent, personable, and enthusiastic about the opportunity.

Most job seekers are aware of this, at least in theory. But hiring managers and professional staffing firms still see countless cover letters every day that are undermined by simple, easily avoidable mistakes. Consider some of these errors and make sure you edit them out of your cover letter before you send.

1. To Whom it May Concern

This overinflated, outdated greeting is a no-go on a modern resume. If you don’t know the name of the person who will be reading and reviewing your application, find out. The internet can help. And if you dedicate time to a little research and you still don’t find a specific person’s name attached to the job posting, the company’s website, or elsewhere, then take an educated guess. At the very least, shorten the greeting to “Dear (Company’s Name)”. This isn’t ideal, but it’s a step up from the stuffy and naïve sound of “To Whom it May concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam”.

2. Clunky Prose

Not all of us are professional writers, and if you aren’t a master of linguistic fluidity, that’s okay, especially if you’re applying for a job that emphasizes very different skill sets. But keep in mind that smooth, clear, relevant sentences convey the best aspects of intelligence and likability. So try.

Read your cover letter aloud, preferably in front of a helpful audience. Remove repetitive words, empty phrases, and clichés, and iron out boxy, robotic sentences. It goes without saying, but make sure your cover letter is free of grammatical errors and misspellings.

3. The Suggestion of Negative Personality Traits

Hiring managers face a surprisingly high number of cover letters that make the senders sound arrogant, unfamiliar with the realities of the industry, or even hostile. Often these statements slip into cover letters unnoticed, and they are by no means an accurate reflection of the writer’s personality. But written language is a funny thing. What may sound to the writer like confidence can come off as pompous blustering to a reader. What may sound like playful self-deprecation can come off as unnecessarily apologetic.

To be safe, keep your sentences straightforward and free of comments that can be interpreted in multiple ways. Don’t joke in your cover letter. Avoid sarcasm and irony. And remove any statement that may possibly register as an insult to the reader.

Edit your cover letter several times and reach out for guidance if you need it. The staffing experts at CSS are standing by to help you polish your cover letter and make sure it represents you at your best. Feel to free to contact us at any time.

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