Applying for a Job and Writing a Cover Letter: Top 7 Memorable Mistakes
Recently I am involved again in recruiting a large number of people in the field of software development and every day I receive a number of amazing and frustrating job applications that let me fall down in unbreakable infectious laughter. Thanks to all these applicants. They make my work day full of joy and laughter.
The Worst Way to Apply for a Job – Example
I will start by a great example of how we * should not * apply for a job. Once we posted a job position and we requested from all applicants a CV in English and cover letter in English. Few hours later we received an application letter like the following:
From: “asd sgfds” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: (no subject)
Message body: (empty)
Attachments: New Document (2).htm
The attachment contains an “excellent” CV of 5 lines in Bulgarian with tens of spelling mistakes and bad formatting.
Mistake 1: Not Reading the Job Application Requirements
Thrust me, when a company requests a certain set of documents from all applicants, if you want to successfully apply for the job position, you should send all of these documents, not just some of them. If you are running a company, you will need employees that do what you have requested from them, not just some piece of it and in a wrong way, right? The same applies for the employer posted the job offer. Employers need employees who do their job as expected and bring great results to the company.
In our case we requested CV in English and cover letter in English. This means exactly what these two phrases say: we request two documents, CV and cover letter, both in English. This does not mean a cover letter in Bulgarian or CV in Bulgarian or absence of some of these documents. This means two separate files containing exactly what the company requested.
To be successful when applying for a job, ensure you have read carefully the requirements and you understand them. Send exactly what is requested. For example if they request “intention letter”, send them intention letter, not cover letter. If they request “motivation letter”, send them motivation letter. If they request “resume”, send them resume, not CV. If they request diploma, send them your diploma. If they request references, send them references. If you don’t have, try to find some. If the employer asks you to send job reference number, send it. Just follow the rules of the employer, not your rules.
Trust me, it is better to send 2-3 high-quality and carefully prepared job applications to 2-3 of the best employers instead of sending 20-30 low-quality job applications to all currently active job offers (by low-quality job application I mean just sending a CV in an email without subject and body). Chaotic job applications almost never work and it is always better to send high-quality applications.
If an employer sees that you do not know in what company you apply and for what position you apply, your application will be directly discarded and in most cases you will even not receive a notification. Here I mean the serious employers that need high-quality employees. The others should not be interesting for the normal, intelligent, highly educated and well motivated people.
Mistake 2: Not Researching Well the Company and the Offered Position
You should obligatory research the company, what it does, who are its customers and what is it target market, what is its position on its target market, how do they do their business, what is expected from you to do at the offered position. As more you read about the company, as well you will be prepared to apply for it.
Be sure to know well the position you apply for, what is expected from you at this job and what are the requirements for the candidates.
Writing a cover letter without rich information about the employer and the offered job position is impossible. There is no such term “just a cover letter”. The cover letter is specific to each company you apply to and each position you apply for.
How to Research a Company?
- Internet. The first way to research a company is on the Web. Start from their Web site and read it carefully. Read the press releases, read what the others say about this company and its products in Internet. Read the forums, job boards, etc. If the company is Bulgarian, you could also find some information about its turnover, owners, etc. from the Bulgarian Trade Register (www.brra.bg).
- Friends. Try to find friends of yours who work in this company or know something about it. They could give you important information about the company goals, products, services, business model, etc. They could give you important information about the company’s internal application process, typical interview questions, tests, exams, etc.
- Other sources. Try to find other sources of information about the company, e.g. forum discussions, mailing lists, their customers, etc. It is nice idea to download their products (in case of product-oriented software company) and try them. You could contact their sales and support for more information. Thus you will learn more about how the company works.
Mistake 3: Missing Cover Letter
Some people think that nobody reads the cover letters sent as part of their job application and that the cover letter is a meaningless requirement. Such people believe that strong CV and rich experience is enough. In some companies this could be true, but in the best employers this is great mistake. Certainly, there are some companies that really do not care about the cover letter and as a rule these companies do not request it. If a cover letter is requested, be sure it will be read, at least at a glance.
In the most prestigious and well-structured companies the cover letter is very important and the human resources (HR) team at the company definitely reads it. If the cover letter is impressive, you will be immediately contacted and invited to an interview, even if your experience is not great.
Remember: it is always worth to send a well-prepared, impressive cover letter, especially written for exactly this company and exactly this job position. Never “reuse” your cover letters. A good cover letter for certain company and job position is in most cased bad cover letter for another p
Beware: If you apply for a second time in given company, be sure to rewrite your cover letter. Most good companies will disregard your application in case they find that you apply for a second time with the same cover letter. The same cover letter means that your motivation is not changed, your qualification is not changed since your last application.
Be sure that the HR professionals will try to find as much information about you as they can. They will search in Google about you, will try to find your Facebook profile, will try to find information about you from current employees, etc. The HR professionals never forget if you had ever sent a bad job application. They will find you, be sure. That’s why you should always carefully prepare your job application before sending it. Read this article to the end and think a bit how to proceed the next time when you apply for a job.
Mistake 4: Template-based Cover Letter
One of the best ways to guarantee a failure of your job application process is to use a template-based cover letter. Never do this! Once we received a really bad cover letter like this:
“Dear …, I would like to apply for Your Company because I am skillful and highly enthusiastic candidate. I want to grow in Your Company, to improve my knowledge and skills. Your company is the best and I want to be part of it. I am hard worker and will help your business to grow.”
The above is just a bullshit! This text says nothing about why you want exactly this position in exactly this company, how your experience in the past will help you do exactly this job, why you are really match the requirements from the job offer, etc. Moreover, using phrases like “Your Company” is always a bad idea! Once we even received a cover letter starting with “Dear …” with three dots coming from the template.
Remember: There is no way to write a good cover letter by template.
How to Write a Cover Letter
A good way for writing a cover letter is to read enough about the company and the offered position and following the requirements stated in the job offer and the detailed job descriptions to write roughly 1-2 sentences matching each of these requirements (not directly, not exactly in the order specified in the job offer and not exactly with their words an phrases!).
For example if the job requires “examine and analyze the technical documentation of competitors”, you could write for example that “in your previous job you had to read a lot of technical documentation and thus you believe that you will be able to find, read and analyze various types of articles, documents, manuals, etc.”. Don’t use this sentence in your cover letter. Say it with your words, matching your experience and skills. If you don’t have similar experience, say for example that “you like to read blogs and articles and you know that technical documentation is different but it should also be interesting and challenging”. Use your won words.
Another example: the job description requires “excellent communication skills”. You could write that “you believe you have a good sense of communication because you had organized a small technical seminar at school or at the university where you needed to contact the speakers, arrange the seminar venue, invite the attendees, attract sponsors, etc.”. This could never be used as template. It depends on your past experience, interests, skills, personal character qualities, etc.
A bad idea is to write “I am very good in examining and analyzing the technical documentation of competitors”. How you prove this? What are your arguments? If you are not good in something, just skip talking about it. You can’t say you are good at something without any arguments. How you know you are good in this? Just describe it.
Another bad idea: ”I have excellent communication skills”. This sound like “I am 18 years old and I have very rich experience in professional project management in large teams”. Saying something without arguments is always a bad idea. Either argument well your statement or just don’t talk about it.
Never Lie in Your CV and Cover Letter
Never lie! If you lie in your CV or cover letter, you will be caught at the interview and your eventual interview will end very soon. Just write in the cover letter something matching the requested requirements and provide valid supporting arguments. You could prove that you match certain requirements either by showing similar experience, or you by saying you have read about this in the past, or just sharing that you have a friend who always talks to you about this, or you just explain that you want to learn this and you even had read an article about it and watched a related video tutorial. Always use valid arguments and never lie. If you say you are … or …, find a supporting arguments.
Another example: “I am a hard-worker”. How you prove this? You could say that “at the university you always have high grades due to the fact that you always come very well prepared for the exams” or that “when an important work is waiting you, you could not sleep until you get it done”. Just use valid true arguments based on your past experience (not only work experience, but general).
Don’t Make Spelling, Punctuation and Formatting Mistakes
When writing your CV and cover letter, use a spell checker. Don’t make spelling mistakes, punctuation mistakes, etc. MS Word and the other text processing applications have very good spell checkers. Just use them.
Format your CV and cover letter well. Here you can use templates. Just type “CV template” or “sample cover letter” in Google and you will find lots of examples. Be sure to use only the styles, layout and formatting from the best examples you find and never use the text inside. Some companies even use an automated software to find whether your cover letter is template-based, so be sure to write it entirely in your words!
Mistake 5: Bad CV
Bad CV is another guaranteed recipe for failure. Writing a good CV is out of scope for our article but I will give few tips. Generally you should follow some good template and keep the CV short but comprehensive. It should start with:
- Title, e. g. “CV”
- Your name, email, phone, etc.
- A personable photo (business style, not at the beach!)
- Education section (university, period, specialty, title, etc.; may be moved down, because usually is not much important)
- Employment section (company name, job title, period, responsibilities, etc.)
- Projects section (project title, description, period, duties and responsibilities, etc.)
- Skills section (technical, business, personal, languages, etc.)
- Others section (publications, awards, hobbies, etc.)
If you are junior candidate and you apply for your first job, you should be able to fit all this in one page. If you are more experienced candidate with 2-3 years of experience, you should be able to put this in two pages. If you are more experienced candidate, you should have already learned how to write a good CV and cover letter.
There are thousands of Web sites who guide you in better and more comprehensive way how to write your CV. Just type “guidelines writing cv” in Google.
Mistake 6: Wrongly Named Files
Many people ignore the importance of naming the files well. Bad naming like “New Document (2).docx” could make really bad impression. people who are strict and highly-qualified always name their documents in informative and consistent way.
Examples of Good File Names
Examples of Bad File Names
- New Document (3).docx
- Untitled sdadsa.jpg
Mistake 7: Bad Application Email
The above naming rules apply not just to the attached file names but also to the sender email. Don’t use vulgar or commonly unacceptable nick names in your emails. Always put your full real name as sender, with the first letter capital and the others – lowercase.
Examples of Good Email Senders
- Dimiter Aleksandrov <email@example.com>
- Milena Stefanova <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Ivan Nikolov <email@example.com>
Examples of Bad Email Senders
- Mitaka <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Iron maiden <email@example.com>
- Agfs <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- ivan nikolov <email@example.com>
- IVAN NIKOLOV <IVAN@MAIL.RU>
Writing Good Job Application Email
A good job application email should consist of:
- Good sender and email (see the above explanations)
- Good title line (e.g. Dear HR Manager / Dear Mr. Nakov / Dear Human Capital Manager / Dear Sir or Madame, etc.)
- Job application sentence specifying the company name and the job position (e.g. I would like to apply for the junior software software engineer job in <company-name>, ref. no. 363, published in jobs.bg. Please find attached my CV and cover letter.)
- Optionally you could add more explanations (e.g. I am a students in NBU, second year, …) but don’t duplicate the cover letter
- Optionally you could add a finishing sentence (e.g. Being very enthusiastic about the great opportunity that your offer is giving I look forward to meeting you. Thank you for your time and consideration.)
- Signature (e.g. Kind regards, Stela Koseva)
Indications of Bad Communicational Culture
- Bad sender email – see the above examples
- Missing title line
- Missing job application sentence, specifying the exact company name and job position
- Missing signature – you should always sing the mail by writing your name at the end
I will be really happy if more and more students read this article and follow these best practices and advices about how to apply for a job. I will definitely make a seminar about “How to apply for a job” and about all these mentioned typical mistakes and I even think about putting additional “Applying for a Job” topic to all my University and School courses. Most people really need to be explained how to write emails, how to write a CV and cover letter and how to apply for a job. Until these lectures and seminars become a reality, enjoy this article!
Writing Cover Letter: Additional Resources
Presentation on Writing a cover letter:
Video on writing a cover letter (in Bulgarian):