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By Lilian Wamaitha
Have you ever seen a very good job, know that you are qualified but then on how to apply the employer asks you to send a CV and cover letter detailing why you are the most fit for the job? Immediately you launch into panic mode. You have no idea what to write on the cover letter.
“Will they even read it, but then if they won’t read it they wouldn’t have asked or it, oh my God panic mode.”
Relax.  A cover letter is just that – something that sells you best to the employer. It’s not a duplication of your CV though.
When done right, a good cover letter has the potential of getting you an interview even before the employer reads your CV.
However, it can prove quite a challenge trying to craft a good cover letter that you think will impress the interviewer. It is even harder crafting one that showcases your skills without making you feel entitled or just full of clichés.
To help you stay clear of the most deadly cover letter pitfalls, I asked recruiters for the worst things they have ever seen in cover letters. From typos to way huge red flags like talking ill of your former boss, here are five things that should not be in your cover letter.
1. Underselling yourself
It’s pretty easy to feel vulnerable when you are applying for a job, most especially when you know that you don’t have a lot of experience.
However, starting a cover letter by underselling yourself or drawing attention to the skills that you don’t have is never the way to go about it.
“I see statements like “I know that I don’t have the experience yet…” I mean if you don’t have the right skills for the job, why would you want to keep insisting on that?” says Ms. Muthoni Ndegwa, a top recruitment manager.
She advices job seekers to focus on the skills that they already possess that will be of interest to the hiring manager.
If you are looking for a job, consider yourself a sales person. Anything you write on that piece of document should sell you best to the employer rather than insisting on your shortcomings,” she says. [ How To Write A Cover Letter That Recruiters Will Actually Read ]
2. Lack of attention to detail
Sometimes you may get so caught up finding ways of expressing yourself that you end up forgetting to pay attention to the finer details.
Typos though may seem like nothing, can end up costing you job opportunities. I mean, I sure don’t like reading a document with typos, so why should that HR manager who has hundreds of applications to go through to hire the best person?
Always proof read your cover letter like you would do an important document and this includes minor details like the date and employer information. You don’t want to send a cover letter you had used to apply for a job at I & M bank to a HR manager at Safaricom.
Another mistake is reusing the same cover letter to apply for every job you come across. Yes, you can re-use some parts but every job is unique and these are things you should pay attention to.
Tailor that cover letter to match what any employer is looking for because as a recruiter, I want to see the skills and experience I am looking for in that cover letter before I decide whether I want to meet you in person,” says Ms Ndegwa.
3. Keeping the focus on your past
Maybe you have been out of the job market for a while, were laid off a few months back or are just looking for your first job. Regardless of the reason why you are looking for a job, don’t spend the limited space you have on your cover letter, re-living the past.
The worst thing that a candidate can do is explain why they left their former job or are looking to leave. It’s like going on a first date and talking about your ex. The employer is not interested in what you did; they just want to know if you have what it takes to deliver on the job.
Information about why you left or are looking to leave will come up during the interview stage.
Remember, the cover letter is your ticket to getting your foot through the door, hence the reason why you should not spend it explaining things that may just cause you to be eliminated.
4. Bringing up money issues too soon
At the end of the day, what motivates you to look for a job is a good salary and employers understand that.
However, discussing salary issues on the cover letter is a no. You don’t even know if you will get a job, if you will even like working there, so why are you making it seem like you already got the job and are just waiting to report.
Number one, this just shows that you are only interested in the money and not really the job. Good job seekers focus on what they can offer rather than what they can gain.
There is a time and place to discuss salary and your cover letter isn’t either.
Sometime the employer may ask you to indicate your current and expected salary. Now then you can let them in on that or leave it out. If you are qualified, an employer will not refuse to give you the job just because you didn’t indicate your salary details. [ 3 Clever Ways To Indicate Your Expected Salary in A Cover Letter ]
5. You making it all about you
Imagine going on a date and all the other person keep talking about is themselves; what they want to gain from the relationships, why they are on that date with you and so on. It can be annoying and downright humiliating, right?
Just like a date, treat the employer that way. They want you to massage their egos. They want you to tell them why you want to work for them. They want you to tell them that they are important- like you choose them for a reason.
So stop making it all about you in the cover letter. You won’t impress them by declaring how much you want to grow in your career and how much experience you have. Instead, think about how that experience will help their overall business goals.
What are you bringing to the table that will take the company to the next level? When you nail that, you will have that employer right where you want them to be.
“You should avoid over selling yourself or being boastful about your strengths and accomplishments. Also, stay clear of oversharing your personal history, exaggerating and providing false information,” advices Ms Rebecca Nyawira, a professional CV writer at Corporate Staffing Services.
It’s now your turn
Ultimately the buck stops with you. If you know what you want, you will do your best to land that interview. You will not just go applying for all jobs with the same cover letter. Research the company, learn about industry trends and identify ways you can help that company realize their potential if you were to work for them.
Lilian is a Communication Officer at Career Point Kenya. Got any questions regarding how to land your next role, share them below or email