Five red flags to look for in a cover letter when hiring

Published October 25th, 2015 - 08:14 GMT

Question: Hi! I’m responsible for recruiting new talent in a startup. I always receive a bunch of cover letters and I don’t have enough time to scan through all of them. At the same time, I know how much cover letters are important to evaluate a candidate for a job. Can you please give me some red flags, or warning signs, in a cover letter that would help me pick only the best cover letters to review?

– Haya. J

Answer: Excellent question! Cover letters are an important supplement to a CV as they bring out the essence and true potential of a candidate. In fact, 44 percent of employers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) say a cover letter is very important and make a huge difference in the hiring process, as stated in the “Modern Job Search in the MENA” poll, November 2013. Cover letters help employers know more about a candidate and are a great way for them to check how candidates express and market themselves.

Here some red flags to watch out for on cover letters:

1. Writing the wrong company name

Candidates often use templates off the internet which they send to multiple companies. You can catch such candidates by checking the company name mentioned in the cover letter. Wrongly written company names are usually a mistake made by careless, mass-applying candidates. A candidate who is really interested in the position will take the time to research your company and customize their cover letter accordingly.

2. Grammar and typos

The cover letter is a great way for a candidate to market themselves. So imagine if the letter contains grammar mistakes! That means that the candidate has either not bothered to proofread, or does not possess the proper language requirements for the job. This is a major red flag to look out for.

3. Lack of concrete examples

Most organizations want to hire the best. It’s really easy to state experience on a cover letter, and what you should actually look for are examples of achievements or instances where the candidate has made a difference. These instances show that an employee can not only do their job well, but also excel in their role.

4. Talking only about themselves

It would be wise to check if each paragraph in a cover letter starts with “I.” If it does, it might mean that your candidate loves talking about themselves without consideration for teamwork — a key word in today’s workplace! You should also check whether the candidate mentions “team,” “team player,” or “teamwork” anywhere in their letter. Most candidates will have to work in a team, and collaboration skills should clearly reflect in their cover letter.

5. Badmouthing a previous employer

A cover letter provides a window of opportunities for candidates to shine. It isn’t a place for them to be pessimistic, self-depreciating or hateful towards their previous employer. Badmouthing a previous employer or manager provide a great deal of insight into a candidate’s true character.

By Suha Mardelli Haroun

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