We’ve all been there. You spend hours fine-tuning your resume and cover letter. Maybe you were even referred by someone you know or promised a glowing recommendation. And then… crickets.
There’s a good chance the position wasn’t a good fit for you. Or, as is most often the case, there was likely some stiff and extensive competition. But if your applications seem to consistently be going unanswered, you may be unknowingly committing a resume or cover letter crime. To ensure you’re not turning off your future employer before you’ve even had the chance to step in the door, we enlisted three hiring editors to speak to most common faux pas.
1. You didn’t spell check.
After a long day and multiple edits trying to get everything just right, it can be tempting to give your resume and cover letter the old once-over and just press send. But one typo can overshadow all your hard work—and your employment potential. “I once received rave reviews about a candidate from a coworker/friend but, after having them forward her resume, I noticed it included a lot of typos. It really raised a red flag,” says Star Senior Beauty Editor Katie Livanos. When in doubt, check (and double-check) your work.
2. You didn’t do your research.
Typos aside, you won’t hold a potential employer’s inbox attention for long if you make it clear from the start that you don’t know, or care to know, who you’re talking to. “So often, candidates just randomly send their cover letter and resumes to anyone at the company. If you can’t do your research to find the right person hiring and then address the letter to that person, then what does that say about your abilities once you start there?,” says Us Weekly Senior Editor Rachel Chang. “I can’t tell you how many resumes I receive without cover letters, addressed to the wrong person, etc.,” adds Katie. Or worse, addressed “to whom it may concern.”
However, it’s not enough to address your application to the right person on staff. You also need to know what you’re talking about. “Prove you know the publication.” says Entertainment Director at YourTango.com, Lauren Metz. “Mention specific blogs you read regularly, feature stories you shared with friends, etc.” And don’t forget the impact of a thank you email when it comes to sealing the deal!
3. You didn’t come across as “employee material.”
Perhaps your resume and cover letter read error-free and informed, but if your online presence doesn’t back that up, a future employer may be wary. “Don’t have a crazy email address like email@example.com,” warns Lauren. “Similarly, make sure you have a professional voicemail [greeting].” This also applies to online profiles that, while not linked or referenced in your initial introduction email or any attachments, can (and most likely will) be discovered with a quick Google search. Remember, when it comes to your career prospects, strict privacy settings and a little censoring can go a long way (on Facebook especially).
4. You didn’t sell yourself.
While not as embarrassing as some of the faux pas, simply not explaining what makes you a good fit for the job can also hurt your chances of getting asked in for an interview. “Make sure your resume and cover letter show that you’re an expertise in the field (demonstrate your knowledge of the specific publication/company you’re applying to) and prove why you are the only right fit for the position (your resume already spells our your experience—this is your chance to explain the passion and expertise you bring),” says Rachel.
Don’t worry; this doesn’t mean you need years of experience or countless clips in your portfolio. In fact, Rachel says the best cover letter she ever received was from a college student who made up for what she lacked in experience by showing her what kind of intern she’d be. “She drew me into her cover letter with a unique lede; she researched my past experience and what drove me to work in the industry and likened her own passion to it with specific examples, and she handled herself with precision, poise, and perfection in every piece of communication—phone interview, follow-up emails, etc.” And, after proving herself as an intern, she became a full-time employee. “One solid cover letter, and we’ve now worked at three magazines together!”