5 Reasons Your Cover Letter is Terrible - America's Future

April 7, 2021

Career AdviceProfessional Development

5 Reasons Your Cover Letter is Terrible

By: Katelynn Barbosa

I’m feeling extra grumpy and salty because I am 37 weeks pregnant, sick of waddling everywhere, and dying for a stiff cocktail. The good news for you is that my current state has put me in the mood to drop some VERY honest advice about a vital component of every job application – the cover letter.

Your cover letter is not something you should be annoyed you have to write. Instead, it is a gift, an opportunity to explain why you genuinely want the job you’re applying for, why you are passionate about the organization’s mission, and why your background aligns well with the opening. Yet so many candidates take this gift and squander it. Oh, let me count the ways…

1. You don’t address your cover letter to a specific person. Every cover letter should be addressed to a specific individual, like an actual person with a heartbeat, a mother, and a social security number. Why? I’ll make an analogy to online dating. Imagine getting a message addressed to “brown-haired girl in my zip code.” I may very well fall within that category of person but I’d like to be addressed as an individual, you know? And when I get a message like that, it tells me the person just copied and pasted his message to tons of brown-haired girls in his zip code and couldn’t be bothered to put any effort into his message to me.

So with cover letters, avoid the “To the Hiring Committee” (who says there is a committee? This isn’t NASA), “To whom it may concern” (anyone who says “whom” in conversation is the kind of person I avoid at parties), or my personal (least) favorite, “Dear sir or madam” (do I look like I have a robust book of corrupt congressmen?). If you can’t find the appropriate hiring person online (I bet you can if you try for just five minutes), address your cover letter to the President of the organization. Hell, address it to an intern. Just don’t address it to the brown-haired girl in your zip code, which is what you are doing when you address it to anyone other than a specific person..

2. You could take the cover letter you submitted and send it over to Red Lobster for their open hostess role and it wouldn’t require a single change. Read the cover letter you are thinking of submitting right now. Could you take that cover letter, submit it to Red Lobster for that open hostess role, and it would make total sense? Then, your cover letter stinks worse than my incoming newborn’s diaper. You get why, right? If you can submit your cover letter to Red Lobster, it means you didn’t address your interest in the role or organization you’re applying for and made no effort to explain how your background is relevant to the particular position. Although, if you do get the Rod Lobster job, can you hook me up with some of those Cheddar Bay biscuits?

3. You didn’t follow basic instructions. Writing a good cover letter is hard. Following basic instructions shouldn’t be. And yet! Here is an actual line specifying what we are looking for in a cover letter from a job description we currently have on our website: “Cover Letter detailing your interest in the position and the mission of [organization name] and your salary requirements.”

So if your cover letter doesn’t discuss why you are interested in the mission of this specific organization (Red Lobster’s is “to be where the world goes for seafood, now and for generations” in case you were curious), why you are interested in this specific position (not the Red Lobster hostess job!), and an actual number that states what your salary requirements are (“negotiable” is useless!), then you have failed to follow basic instructions.

Please just follow the instructions. This is the bare minimum, folks. And can you please apply this to regular life too? Stand on the right side of the moving walkway only, wait until it’s your turn to get up before getting your bag out of the overhead bin, and use your blinker when you’re changing lanes. It’s not that hard.

4. You just repeat your resume in paragraph form. When writing your cover letter, it is vital to remember that I already have your resume. If I just wanted you to re-state in your cover letter what already appears in your resume, I wouldn’t ask for a cover letter at all because I don’t love wasting my own time unless it involves investing hours in a Facebook argument over whether it’s ever appropriate to go without an oxford comma. (It isn’t.)
A job description typically lists several qualifications, and your cover letter is your one chance to show that you meet those qualifications. Yet I can’t tell you how many candidates waste vital cover letter space just repeating what I already know from their resume. “Prior to working as a leprechaun at O Danny Boy’s, I was a professional Easter Bunny at Spring Time All the Time.” Oh you mean the O Danny Boy’s and Spring Time All the Time that appear a mere two mouse scrolls below in your resume? Did you think I wasn’t going to see that? Just. Don’t. Instead, tell me WHY your experience working as fictional creatures makes you a good fit for this opening.

5. You don’t even reference the organization you’re applying for. This goes to my Red Lobster point above. At Talent Market, every role we are filling is with an organization that has a specific mission and cares that the new hire be invested in that mission. If you can’t be bothered to even reference the name of the organization you’re applying for, I don’t have a lot of confidence that you are passionate about their mission or even know what that mission is. And for Pete’s sake, don’t reference your interest in “the company” in any cover letter for Talent Market. We recruit exclusively for nonprofit organizations so when you say “company,” I know you aren’t paying attention.
The sad truth is that by just stating the mission of the organization in your cover letter, you are taking it out of the bottom 10% of cover letters I read because I know you at least went to their website and did some base level of research.