Cover Letter Mistakes: What to Avoid

Cover Letter Mistakes

Many applicants will spend hours getting their resume just right. They usually re-write or edit their resume just prior to submitting for a position just to make sure the resume matches the job requirements. Everyone knows how important the resume is to getting an interview. However, the cover letter is just as important. It is your formal introduction where you express interest in a position and sell yourself as a great candidate. To really put your best foot forward, make sure to avoid the following cover letter mistakes!

Too Generic!

Too many people create a generic cover letter and use the same one no matter the position for which they are interested. The cover letter needs to be individualized. When the hiring manager reads your cover letter, it should be apparent that you’ve read and understood the entire job description. Use keywords from the job description in your cover letter. If the position is for a “marketing specialist,” use those exact words. Don’t send in a cover letter describing your excellent sales experience, as the hiring manager may think you’re not a great fit.

Don’t address your cover letter to “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom it May Concern.” This is the first sign that you didn’t do your research. Call the company and ask to whom you should address the letter. Having a real name in the letter shows you are resourceful and will put you ahead of many candidates.

Hint: You can use the company’s name or job title in your cover letter to show that you’ve personalized your cover letter just for that specific job.

Don’t Use the Wrong Words!

Your choice of words and your use of language can encourage the hiring manager to review your resume or throw it in the trash.

Some of the things not to include:

  • Using uncommon words: It’s great you know how to use the word “extemporaneous,” but it’s best to keep long words out of the cover letter.
  • Using humor. Unless you’re applying for a job where humor is the job requirement, don’t try to add it into a cover letter. Getting hired is a business process and needs to be treated as such.
  • Using acronyms. Especially if these are the texting acronyms such as “lol” or “jk.” The only exception is if these are acronyms used within the job posting and are well known in your industry.
  • Using long-winded sentences. If your cover letter starts off with a sentence such as “By the mere fact I’m sending my resume to you, I wish to show you how interested I am in the position you currently have open,” you will sound inefficient. Keep your sentences short and to the point.
Hint: Use action words in your cover letter. These can include such words as “managed,” ”solved,” “organized,” “sold,” “saved” or “led.”

Don’t Repeat the Resume

Your cover letter and your resume have different purposes. The resume highlights your relevant experience and education. Your cover letter sells you to the hiring manager so that he will want to read your resume and bring you in for an interview. You will want to put one or two of your best qualifications in both the cover letter and the resume because they are the items most applicable to that position, but you need to include more in the cover letter.

The cover letter can include information such as how you heard of the position, why you are interested in the position and why you are a great fit for the position. It can also give you a chance to provide pertinent personal information such as addressing the gaps you have in your resume (took time off but kept skills up to date) or why you are applying for a position in another state (you have plans to move!).

Hint: If you are unsure of how to start your cover letter, pretend that the employer has already decided you are a great fit but wants to know more about you.

Don’t Be All About You!

If you read through your cover letter and notice most of the sentences beginning with “I,” it is definitely time to rewrite your letter. You need to sell yourself, but you should do so by focusing on the business needs of the employer.

Here’s an example. You are interested in a business process efficiency position because it’s a career step up for you. That’s great for you, but isn’t something that needs to be in your cover letter. However, in your current job, you were able to make a small change that saved the company thousands of dollars per year. This is what you wish to showcase in your cover letter. The first point is all about you. The second point is about how you can benefit the company.

Other points to remember:

  • Don’t get personal. If something is not relevant to the job, it’s best to keep it out.
  • Don’t wax philosophical. You may be wondering what you wish to be when you grow up, but that’s not something a potential employer needs to know.
  • Don’t put in pointless numbers. A zero percent absenteeism rate is admirable, but unless it directly relates to the position, don’t mention it.
Hint: Show your excitement for the job. It’s acceptable to compliment the company and show that you are excited about the opportunity.

Don’t Ignore the Basics

Although cover letters can be modified to meet your needs, you should almost always follow a basic cover letter format: In the first section, explain why you are sending your resume. Briefly discuss the job for which you’re applying and why you are interested. In the second section, explain what you would bring to the position and why you would be a great fit. In the third section, thank the employer and request a follow-up.

Unless special circumstances, your cover letter should never be more than one page. Remember that it should be just enough to capture the attention of the reader and inspire him or her to read your resume.

Use a professional font and a business-letter format. Your contact information should be at the top left. The date should be at the top right or top left. It should have a closing and signature line at the bottom. Keep the margins standard. And unless you are applying for a position as a graphic designer, don’t add cute images or graphics.

Proofread. Then proofread some more. Spelling errors and grammatical errors could cost you a position.

Hint: Ask a few people you respect and trust to read through your cover letter and provide honest and constructive feedback.

A great cover letter is professional and succinct. It can be the difference between getting an interview and getting ignored. Therefore, it is good practice to spend the time and effort in writing a good cover letter.

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