Cover Letter Mistakes to Avoid At All Costs

Arts employers often receive 50, 100, or even 300+ applications for each job opening, making outstanding cover letters critical. With this kind of intense competition, search committees seek any excuse to purge a file and narrow the pool. Yet hopeful applicants make all kinds of mistakes that get their materials immediately thrown into the “no” pile: poor writing, typos, not addressing key points in the description, not supporting claims, overusing the word “I”, emphasizing the wrong points, etc.

Here are some of my all-time favorite disqualifying statements from cover letters.  And what makes these errors so amazing is that every item on this list is absolutely true.  You can’t make up this stuff!

      1. If the chair of the search committee is named Dr. Shankovich, avoid beginning with “Dear Dr. Frankovich”.

      2. Do not staple a photograph to the right hand corner of your letter, particularly if you’re a balding and overweight middle-aged man.

      3. Your commitment to saving the environment is appreciated. But if you spill significant amounts of coffee on your letter, consider printing a new copy.

      4. A strong design can make your letterhead stand out.  But avoid fonts where the letters resemble hearts or appear to have blood dripping from them.   

      5. Reconsider replacing your cover letter to Dean Marianski with a hand-drawn cartoon including the quote bubble “I’ve always wanted to work with Merv.  He’s awesome!!!!!”

      6. While it’s critical to outline your philosophical take in a cover letter, some statements are best kept to yourself, such as “I believe arts educators should not get married or have families because it shows a lack of commitment to the profession.”

      7. Refrain from spending two paragraphs clarifying your time behind bars. (Save that for the interview.)

      8. Here’s one that I made (ouch!!!) as a compulsive document saver.  After my letter was finished and in perfect condition, I subconsciously saved a couple last times before emailing it off.  But in my haste, “control” and “S” were pressed in the opposite order, adding two “s’s” to my document.  This transformed the phrase “With a strong background in music theory pedagogy” to “With ass strong background in music theory pedagogy.”

      9. Even if you are extremely famous, do not replace your letters of recommendation with the phrase, “For referrals, just talk to anyone in the music business.”    

      10. Do not conclude by writing “I believe my outstanding record of success and diverse profile make me the perfect candidate for Eastern Iowa University.” At least not when the application is being send to Yale.

Check out David Cutler’s

THE SAVVY MUSICIAN: Building a Career, Earning a Living, & Making a Difference

“Hands down, the most valuable resource available for aspiring musicians.”

— Jeffrey Zeigler, Kronos Quartet

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