One of the most stressful parts of applying to jobs and internships is writing your cover letter. Flattering a company while explaining why they need you is a tricky thing to do. Add in the fear of a typo or factual mistake and it’s terrifying! HC talked to the experts to help you make sure your cover letter is perfect before you send it out – and how to fix it if there’s a mistake!
1. Not naming a specific addressee
For employers, there may be no bigger turnoff than receiving a letter addressed “To Whom it May Concern.” A cover letter should be addressed to a specific person doing the hiring. If you don’t have a specific name, try to avoid the dreaded “To Whom it May Concern” by saying “To the [company] Internship Coordinator” or something that signals a specific department. Look at the company’s website to get an idea of specific department names or, better yet, a list of employee’s names and contact information.
If you don’t have a specific name when you first apply, revise your cover letter as you get further in a company’s hiring process.
“Many learn the personal information of key personnel after initial resume submission, so a personalized second letter is not unusual,” says Tom Dezell, author of Networking for the Novice, Nervous, or Naïve Job Seeker.
If you do get further than step one in the application process, then you have the chance to readdress your letter to the specific person you’re now in touch with.
One of the most important parts of writing a cover letter is not being generic. Students send “To Whom it May Concern” letters all the time. Stand out by making sure the hiring manager knows you care enough to specify the person to whom you’re writing.
2. Not personalizing your letter to the job you’re applying for
The Internet is littered with cover letter templates for you to copy and paste into Microsoft Word and insert your information into. Don’t do it! Take the time to express your own thoughts and make sure your desire to work for that company. Never snag a general cover letter from the web – or your roommate.
“I was making my resume and I liked the format that my roommate had used for hers, so she sent me hers so I could just fill it in with all of my credentials,” says Therese Burke, a sophomore majoring in communications at Saint Mary’s College. “Unfortunately, somewhere on it I had missed her name and left it on there. Luckily, someone proofreading it for me caught it before I sent it over for a job consideration.”
No one wants an employer to read a cover letter and immediately recognize the template from the web or another applicant. Make your cover letter shine by making sure it 100 percent reflects you, your writing style and your career goals. Mention where you go to school, what you’re majoring in, what job or internship position you’re seeking and what you would contribute to the company to set yourself apart.
3. Not proofreading
Your teachers and professors are always harping on you to proofread your papers before you submit them. There’s a reason why they do that! When you proofread your cover letter, you won’t get a grade for it, but you could get a job. A cover letter strewn with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors is not going to impress anyone.
You can avoid problems by being a meticulous proofreader and reading your letter out loud before submitting it; you’re more likely to find errors if you hear them. After writing your letter, double check online to make sure that you correctly spelled the company’s name, your potential employer’s name, etc. If you find errors on a letter that you’ve already mailed out, it’s best to send a new one.
“Submit a letter opening with an apology for the errors and correct them,” Dezell says. “This shows an employer you will own up to mistakes and correct them.”
Serious mistakes, like addressing the wrong employee or asking for the wrong position, are definitely scenarios in which you’d want to send a new letter.
Proofreading could save you a lot of stress. Make sure your letter is grammatically perfect and free of typos with the help of volunteers, friends and advisers at your college’s career services office.
4. Underselling yourself
Your cover letter is the place for you to brag. Just like your mom likes to brag to the checkout lady at the grocery store about all of your accomplishments, it’s now your turn to do the same. Mention your most important and relevant clubs, internships and leadership positions.
One of the worst things you can do is undersell yourself in a cover letter. You may feel weird about bragging about yourself, but another girl doesn’t. If that girl lists all her accomplishments and you don’t, who’s going to get the job or internship?
If you feel like you haven’t said enough about yourself or don’t have enough to say, rave about the company you’re applying to.
“You can frame the new content around the theme of learning more about the company and/or position,” Dezell says.
Of course, the flip side is to avoid overselling yourself. Make sure that the time you spend highlighting yourself is equal to the space you devote to writing about the company. If a friend reads your letter and thinks you’re coming across as a braggart, it’s time to revise your cover letter.
If you feel like you don’t have much to say or didn’t say enough, highlight the company and how your skills can complement the company’s mission. Employers want to meet people who respect what they do, and you should show off how you would fit into the company’s culture.
5. Sending the letter to the wrong person
Your cover letter is perfect. Ten different people have read it and have praised you for your eloquence, your grammar and your fabulous writing abilities. You send it off into the world and know that even though you applied for an internship, the company is probably going to make you the CEO. And then you realize that you sent the letter to the wrong person.
Don’t panic! You may have sent your letter to the wrong company, but it’s fixable. Admitting a mistake and correcting it is ten times better than sulking in your dorm room.
“Admit your mistake and apologize,” Dezell says. “That will create a more favorable impression than just the student who was so stupid they didn't know what company to send the cover letter to.”
Say the letter was sent in error and that you apologize for any inconvenience. Show that you’re courteous and are sorry for any time wasted on the part of the employer.
Take your perfect letter and always double check that you’re sending it where it should be going. It’s awkward to be praising the wrong company, and it’ll leave the person reading your letter in an uncomfortable situation.
No matter what mistakes you’ve made with your cover letter, you should always try to bounce back.
“Realize that while companies may not always accept a second try after catching a misstep, doing nothing and hoping the employer doesn't catch the mistake isn't likely to yield any positive results,” Dezell says.
Woman up and do your best to fix your cover letter mistakes. Following these tips could lead you to an incredible internship or job opportunity!