5 Mistakes To Avoid In A Cover Letter

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Think of your cover letter as the appetizer for what you know will be a great meal.

You only have one chance to make a first impression. If the first impression you need to make is through a cover letter to a prospective employer, school admissions office, or internship sponsor, make sure it shines a light on your qualifications and displays your enthusiasm for the position or that seat in the class. Unfortunately, too many cover letters I see are dull as dust, containing only generalities or jargon and lacking confidence. These letters hurt your cause.

Here are 5 common mistakes in cover letters. Don’t make them in yours!

1. Sound as if you’re bored.

“I am writing in response to your opening for a marketing manager, listed on Job Site website.” This response is honest and to the point, but it also lacks a sense that you really want this gig. Better: “I am enthusiastically applying for the position of marketing manager for Best Company Ever. My experience as a top saleswoman for the last three years for an organic beauty supply is an ideal match for your needs.” Feel the energy of the second sentence? The reader will, too.

2. Don’t make any effort to get inside knowledge about the company or school, or explain why you want to attend their program/get hired by them. Also omit your most relevant experiences that should make them want to give careful consideration to your resume.

There could be a dozen different reasons why you’ve chosen to apply for this job or to attend this program. For example, if it’s a start-up, you’ll have more opportunity to perform multiple roles and gain a broader view of small businesses. In a larger company, you may have more chances for travel or longstanding career growth. Perhaps the company has innovated a technology, product type, or employee-friendly atmosphere that you strongly admire. Identify these things, as well as your most relevant experience/qualifications that match what they are looking for. Don’t go into too many details; keep it short. For example:

“My friend Bonnie V. told me how much she learned about digital media sales and marketing as a result of her internship with Best Company Ever last summer. My experience with the Streaming Live Network in building their salesforce over the last year will make me an ideal fit for your team.”

“As a future entrepreneur in green technology, I admire Live Green Now’s innovations in environmentally friendly plastics and am eager to learn more about these innovations from the inside. My master’s degree in Environmental Studies and research into new techniques for recycling plastics without water makes me a strong candidate for this position.”

3. Ignore the stated requirements for acceptance or position.

If a company says that knowledge of a particular software knowledge, skillset, or academic record is required for a position, don’t waste your time or theirs by submitting a letter if you don’t have it. If you feel you are still qualified, you had better have a compelling explanation and say so up front. Otherwise move on. Pay attention to what companies and schools say they are looking for. They mean it.

4. Sound needy or wishy-washy about getting a call back for an interview. 

A recent cover letter I edited – by someone whose professional experience spanned more than 20 years, numerous awards and 10 patents in his name – ended his letter like this: “If after reviewing my materials you believe that there is a match, please contact me.” This sentence is passive and sounds insecure, as if he doesn’t really expect them to call. And they probably wouldn’t.

I suggested he end the letter like this: “I look forward to the opportunity to meet you to discuss this position and how I can add value to Best Company Ever.” See how the simple change of writing in active voice (“I look forward. . . “) exudes confidence in his ability to demonstrate value.

5. Make them take the extra step of going back to you to get references.

This is one of the mistakes that drives me crazy every time I see it, which is often. Why in the world would you write “References available upon request” instead of providing the actual references in the letter, and/or the resume? List names, titles, phone numbers and emails. If a reference doesn’t have a title, put the person’s relationship to you so the caller will know in what context he or she is providing the recommendation.

Finally, keep the letter short – preferably only a half to three-quarters of a page. This is an appetizer only to get them to want to give your resume careful review, and then call you for the next step. Using active voice, specific facts about your qualifications and the reasons you like the company or school, will demonstrate you are not sending cover letters in a scattershot way, but in a thoughtful, carefully considered manner. And this should help you bring your job search to a swifter and happier conclusion.

Download your free copy of the Quick Guide to Admissions Resume now!

Judy Gruen

By , MBA admissions consultant since 1996 and author (with Linda Abraham) of MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.


Related Resources:

5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your Application Essay or Personal Statement
Ten Do’s and Don’ts for Your Resume 
Sample Resumes and Cover Letter

Magoosh Guide To The TOEFL eBook

Click here for help on your TOEFLFeeling overwhelmed by the TOEFL test? Don’t know where to start? Or have you taken the test 5 times before and just need a quick refresher before you take it for (hopefully!) the last time?

Either way, it can be tough to find quality resources that provide everything you need to know for the test while also being easy to understand. But that’s where our friends at Magoosh TOEFL come in!

They’ve put together this new (and free!) TOEFL iBT eBook to help you prepare for and succeed on your TOEFL test! So no need to spend hours browsing the web for TOEFL practice questions, test strategies or problem explanations–you can find all these resources and lots more in the Magoosh TOEFL eBook.

Go ahead and get to studying–and of course, good luck on your test!

Click here to download your TOEFL iBT eBook!

Accepted: The Premier Admissions Cosultancy

So You Didn’t Get Into Law School…

Need help overcoming your law school application weaknesses? Click here, we can help!

Start planning for next year. Most schools welcome reapplicants.

If you didn’t get into law school this year, it’s never too early to start planning a strategy for next year. Below are five tips that will help you change the results next time you apply if you did not get into law school this time.

1. Evaluate your application. After you’ve licked your wounds, take a hard look at your application and see what needs to be improved. Is it LSAT scores? Grades? Letters of recommendation? Think about yourself as an applicant and what you should focus on and improve during the next 12 months.

2. Retake the LSAT. If your LSAT is under 160 and you are applying to top programs, I strongly suggest retaking it. I recommend to set aside at least three months to study for the LSAT. Your LSAT score is the single, most important element you can work on to increase the competitiveness of your application.

3. Work. I recommend that you work for a law firm in an area of law you are interested in so that you can get an idea of how the law works. If that isn’t an option, consider another business-related job or intern at a district attorney’s office or judge’s chambers. The goal: get relevant legal experience. It will demonstrate your interest both to law schools and potentially to future employers.

4. Network. I recommend using LinkedIn to contact alumni of your top choice law schools and talk to them about their experience and their current work. It can be valuable to have an idea of the student profile for your target law schools and will give you a good idea of what post-law-school life is like.

5. Try again. Come August, some schools may still be looking for students. You won’t get into a top-tier school, but other schools might still have spaces. You may also want to consider part-time programs or schools that will allow you to start in the spring or summer – these terms generally have fewer applicants, so you will be more competitive.

It’s hard when you don’t get accepted into law school, but the best response is to use the opportunity to fine-tune your application and make yourself more competitive for next year. Most schools welcome reapplicants, particularly those who have made significant steps to show their interest in law school and improve their qualifications.
5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your Law School Personal StatementJessicaPishkoJessica Pishko graduated with a J.D. from Harvard Law School and received an M.F.A. from Columbia University. She spent two years guiding students through the medical school application process at Columbia’s PostBacc Program and teaches writing at all levels. 
Related Resources:

The Law School Admissions Guide: 8 Tips for Success
The Increasing Value of Work Experience in Law School Applications
So You Got Waitlisted…7 Tips to Get Off the Law School Waitlist

Jon Medved And OurCrowd: The Remarkable Story Of An Entrepreneur

Listen to our conversation with Jon Medved!Time flies. The Admissions Straight Talk podcast has hit the 100-episode mark! And in honor of our big milestone we invited a  most exciting guest yet.

Want to know what one of the most prominent entrepreneurs of our times has to say about leadership, graduate education, and bodysurfing?

For all this and more, listen to the recording of our interview with Jon Medved – CEO and founder of Our Crowd, venture capitalist, and serial entrepreneur.

00:03:43 – Jon’s solution to having too many shoeboxes: The world’s largest equity crowdfunding platform.

00:08:14 – What really matters to a VC when choosing a company to invest in.

00:10:17 – How a history major made it to the top of the business world with no formal business education.

00:14:09 – Qualities that young professionals need to cultivate. (Is luck quality?)

00:21:08 – Graduate education vs. common sense.

00:22:33 – Exciting new partnership between Wharton’s Social Impact Initiative and OurCrowd.

00:24:02 – A preview of the future of business and the world.

00:27:11 – Why Jon loves his job. (Who helps more people, Jon or Linda? Linda says “Jon.”)

00:28:28 – Entrepreneurs: Here is the best piece of advice you are going to get!

Want to leave us a Happy 100th message? We’d love to hear from you!

Click here to listen to the show!*Theme music is courtesy of podcastthemes.com

Related Links:

Our Crowd
OurCrowd Partners with Wharton Students to Launch Impact Investing Platform
• Wharton Essay Tips
Jon Medved, OurCrowd CEO, Interviewed (Video)

Relevant shows:

The Stanford MSx Program for Experienced Leaders
Which Schools are Good for PE/VC and VC-Backed Entrepreneurship
• Entrepreneurship at UCLA Anderson
Jeff Reid on Entrepreneurship
• Business, Law and Beyond: An Interview with John Engelman

MBA Admissions A-Z: 26 Great Tips - Download your free copy!

An Interview with Our Own: Robbie Walker

Learn more about Robbie and how she can help you get accepted!Curious about the life and times of our spectacular admissions consultants? Please enjoy our newest blog series in which we interview the fabulous people who make up the Accepted.com staff. Next up is…Robbie Walker.

Accepted: Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? Do you hold any graduate degrees?

Robbie: I grew up in northern Illinois in an area that my mother’s family homesteaded when they immigrated to America back in the early 1800s. We were a multi-generational household, and my six siblings and I shared many childhood adventures.

For college, I chose to attend Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and studied Political Science. After earning my degree, I joined Real Estate Research Corporation (RERC), a consulting firm which, at the time, specialized in urban economics. I primarily advised governments at all levels (local, state, national) on how to develop and implement projects that would serve as a catalyst for implementing broader objectives. For instance, I led a groundbreaking project for a Chicago suburb that wanted to identify how to equitably assess fees on residential land use developers for the necessary schools, parks, water and sewage use that additional residents would require. I also helped lead a national study to assess the cost-benefit implications of active solar energy usage in residential developments across the United States for the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.

While working as a consultant, I found I needed a more structured approach to solve related business and financial issues, so I decided to get an MBA. My choice of an MBA program was predicated on a quite specific and individual calculation. First, since I would continue working full-time, my job tied me to a Chicago area school, which limited my choices. Second, I had already earned one degree at Northwestern and wanted to experience a different academic environment. Result: Chicago Booth was my best option. This is not a decision making process I necessarily recommend to my clients! Nonetheless, after several years of hard work and study, I earned my MBA.

While working at RERC, I met my future husband, a Japanese citizen who also earned his MBA at Chicago Booth and who subsequently moved his career into a different industry. We married, and when his new company asked him to move back to Japan to direct their Tokyo operations, we decided to accept the offer and moved our growing family to Japan. We lived in Tokyo for about 15 years.

During this time, I had to switch my career focus away from consulting, primarily due to language issues but also because I wanted to concentrate on the needs of our young children. I chose to teach English to adults (my clients were primarily career diplomats in the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and C-level executives of major Japanese corporations) and freelance writing (for whichever publication that accepted my work!). Eventually, my freelance writing expanded to include editing the work of others, with a focus on business and scientific papers. To this day, I continue to write and edit on a freelance basis. I currently write a regular column for two publications, one in Japan and one in Mexico, and contribute to several blogs and news sources.

Accepted: What’s your favorite non-school/non-work book?

Robbie: It’s impossible to identify my favorite book in any context! Since I’ve always loved reading, I am fairly well read, so all I can say is that in the past few years, I’ve preferred non-fiction to fiction, tend to focus my reading on history and science, and have a particular love of biographies. I do have several favorite fiction authors and, if they’re alive, will read anything new that they publish, and I will also typically take a chance with a new author, especially women, whose book descriptions intrigue me.

Accepted: Can you walk us through your journey to becoming an admissions consultant for Accepted?

Robbie: My freelance editing work led me to becoming an Admissions Consultant. It started with a friend who handled applications for Japanese applicants to graduate school. She needed help handling her work load during a family crisis and asked if I’d be willing to assist her. Once I said yes, that was it – I was hooked!

I loved how admissions consulting combined my knowledge of graduate programs with my ability to advise individuals regarding their particular needs. Most especially, I loved how I can help clients zero in on telling their story in a way that made them unique. (In my opinion, that is the key to the success of my clients.) When my friend decided to leave the business, I explored my options at other firms and was fortunate to be “accepted by Accepted.com.” In the past 8 years with Accepted.com, I’ve developed my expertise in business, law (including LLM), public policy and PhD programs at universities in North/South America, Europe and Asia, as well as expanding my network among AdCom Directors and fellow consultants throughout the world.

A consultant’s value is measured in part by providing the most informative, comprehensive and detailed information needed by a client. I work hard to offer my clients all the necessary information and insights necessary to their individual needs.

Accepted: What’s your favorite thing about consulting?

Robbie: My clients! (That’s an easy question!) Each is unique, each makes me optimistic about the future of business, and each teaches me something, however small.

Accepted: Do you miss teaching ESL? How do you think your teaching skills contribute to your work as a consultant?

Robbie: When we returned to the US (we naturally returned to the Chicago area, given my close family ties to the area), I taught ESL to adults as an adjunct Professor at a local college. My students came from everywhere in the world; in one class, 16 countries were represented among my 17 students, including the Republic of the Congo, Chile and Bulgaria, to name only three.

We moved to Baja, Mexico, when our youngest entered college, but I still teach ESL, although my teaching is now limited to children who are part of the Baja Scholarship Foundation (BSF). I’ve always believed strongly in giving back to my community, wherever I live, and this volunteer work is part of “acting on my word.” The children I teach weekly are quite poor but academically gifted; the mission of BSF is to help them become active participants in their community through funding of their education costs, and my English language instruction is provided as part of that mission.

It’s a joy to teach bright, motivated children. And that’s where I see one connection with my clients, who are also bright and motivated, albeit older. I would say that both groups (BSF students and Accepted clients) are among the smartest, most motivated people I’ve ever encountered in my life. It’s a real pleasure to work with them.

One major part of teaching is knowing how to draw people out, to get them to experiment with a new idea or concept or way of expressing themselves, so whether it’s with learning a different language or helping people uncover something in their background that is pertinent to a goal they want to achieve, my teaching experience contributes greatly to my work as a consultant (and vice versa).

Accepted: What are some of your favorite business school memories?

Robbie: My favorite business school memories include the day a professor won the Nobel Prize in Economics, a few life-long friends I met in the process of earning my degree, and my satisfaction at earning decent grades in quant-heavy courses given my decidedly non-quant background. I learned that Chicago Booth is truly oriented to the individual and open to giving a chance to those of us who don’t fit their typical profile.

Accepted: What are your top 3 admissions tips?

Robbie: I’m going to sound like an AdCom interview here, but learning the answers to these questions is, to me, key to helping my clients gain admission.

Number 1: I’m a big believer in goals and demonstrating how an MBA suits a career vision. ‘Why do you really need an MBA’ is almost always my first question for prospective clients.

Number 2: Why this school? All of the top schools know what they can do for you, the question is, what can you do for them? Show your fit.

Number 3: Why you? What makes you unique? Everyone has a story, and how you tell that story matters a lot. This is where I think I, as an admissions consultant, can make the biggest difference.

Learn more about Robbie and how she can help you get accepted!

View our catalog of MBA School AdmissionsAccepted: The Premier Admissions Cosultancy
Related Resources:

MBA Admissions Consulting and Editing Services
Law School Admissions Consulting and Editing Services
Why MBA?