Don’t Make These 8 Cover Letter Mistakes
by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Your cover letter shows employers how well you express yourself. It can also demonstrate that you are savvy in the ways of marketing yourself and selling your best qualifications. A good cover letter can entice the recipient to review your resume.
A bad cover letter, on the other hand, can nip your chances in the bud. Here are ten common mistakes that contribute to bad cover letters. To ensure that your cover letter is effective, avoid these missteps
1. Don’t skip the cover letter.
Sure, there are some employers that don’t place much importance on cover letters. That said, it’s impossible to know whether the employer you are contacting places value on candidates’ cover letters. Don’t skip this step. A cover letter doesn’t have to be complicated but you must include one.
2. It’s not about what the employer can do for you but what you can do for the employer.
This mistake is particularly common among inexperienced jobseekers. In most cases, employers are in business to make a profit. They want to know what you can do for their bottom line, not what they can do to fulfill your career dreams. Tell the employer how you can meet the company’s needs and the contributions you can make to the company.
3. Avoid a boring or formulaic cover letter.
Don’t waste your first paragraph by writing a boring introduction. Dive right in by using the first paragraph to grab the employer’s attention. Tell the employer which position you are applying for and summarize the reasons you are qualified for the role, expanding on your qualifications in later paragraphs. Don’t use such clichés, rather do your best to write a dynamic cover letter. Write a letter that will make the employer want to get to know you better.
4. Proofread your cover letter… and then proofread it again.
Typos, misspellings, or incorrect grammar and punctuation can send your application right into the trash pile. Your letter reflects your ability to write and communicate, and your attention to detail. Be sure your document is letter-perfect before sending it out. Proofread your letter. Put it down and proof it again a few hours later with a fresh eye. It’s also helpful to enlist a friend to review it for errors, or to use a tool like Grammarly to help you check your work.
5. Don’t use your cover letter to rehash your resume.
Use your cover letter to highlight the aspects of your resume that are relevant to the position, but you’re wasting precious space — and the potential employer’s time — if you simply repeat your resume. Cover letters are an opportunity to expound upon bullet points in your resume. Ask yourself: What experience is on my resume that I’d like this employer to know more about? Choose one or two items and write a short paragraph about each.
6. Cover letters aren’t one-size-fits all.
It’s okay to have a basic template for your cover letter, but when you’re answering an ad or online job posting, the specifics of your letter should closely mimic the wording of the job post. A good job post will let you know exactly what the hiring manager is looking for in a candidate, so tailor your letter to address these specific qualifications. Do some research into the company and try to read between the lines to see if your experience lines up with these values in any way. For example, if you are applying for a job at a company the sells educational products that help children succeed in school, mention your time spent as a volunteer tutor. It’ll show that you share the company’s values and that you understand the value of its product line.
7. Keep your letter short but sweet.
Brevity is a skill, so do your best to keep your letter brief. It should never be more than one page but a good rule of thumb is to keep your letter to four or five paragraphs of no more than three sentences apiece. Using bullet points to outline skills and experience that might be of interest to the employer is a good way to break up blocks of text and draw attention to specific items. Your cover letter is a marketing tool that should focus on the qualifications that will sell you to the employer. Be sure to include yourUnique Selling Proposition. Using clear, simple language, your Unique Selling Propositions should answer these questions:
- What makes you unique?
- What makes you better than other candidates applying for a similar position with this company?
- What can you offer that no other applicant can?
8. Use strong language to describe your skill.
Avoid such phrases as “I feel” and “I believe.” Your statements will be much stronger without them. It’s best to either leave off the qualifier or use a stronger qualifier, such as “I am confident,” I am convinced,” or “I am positive.”Here are some examples of weak statements versus strong statements:
Weak statement: I believe my background provides me with unique qualifications . . .
Strong statement: My background provides me with unique qualifications . . .
Weak statement: I feel very confident that I would be an asset . . .
Strong statement: I am confident that I would be an asset
Weak statement: I feel I can help the ABC Corporation to become more efficient . . .
Strong statement: I am convinced I can help the ABC Corporation to become more efficient . . .
Helpful Cover Letter Resources:
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Jobseeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
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Top Cover Letter Mistakes to Avoid
Most Common Cover Letter Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
The first thing that most employers notice when evaluating a job applicant is his or her cover letter. An effective cover letter can prove that you write well, think clearly and possess the qualities you need to succeed in the job. Avoiding mistakes will help you to jump the first hurdle and get screened in for an interview.
Most Common Cover Letter Mistakes
Submitting a Cover Letter With Errors. Submitting a letter with grammar and/or spelling errors is a sure way to get screened out.
Use spelling and grammar checking tools to identify some issues, but never trust that they have caught all your errors. Place a finger on every word, read your letter out loud and have friends and advisors review your communications before forwarding them to employers.
Sending a Generic Letter. The most common mistake in cover letters is using a generic approach and sending the same letter to every employer. Make sure you mention the specific job for which you are applying in your first sentence. Carefully consider the characteristics of the ideal candidate, as listed in the job posting, and explain how your skills, experiences, and personal qualities will enable you to excel in that particular job.
Not Getting the Facts Right. It is surprising how often job seekers address their letter to the wrong person or reference the wrong company.
This is often the case when candidates are applying for many jobs at the same time. Carefully check you salutation and be certain that you list the right contact person and mention only your target company throughout your letter.
Using an Outdated Greeting. Refrain from using old-fashioned terms like "Dear Sir or Madam" if you don't have the name of a contact person.
Try gender-neutral terms like "Dear Human Resources Manager." Address women as "Ms. Jones" as opposed to "Mrs. Jones" or simply start with the first paragraph of your letter and don't address it to anyone.
Cover Letter is Too Short. Providing a letter which is too short can send the wrong signal to employers about your work ethic or level of interest in the job. You will also have missed the opportunity to frame your background for employers and to lead them towards a positive view of your candidacy.
Cover Letter is Too Long. An overly lengthy letter can burden the reader and increase the likelihood that they will jump over your letter and move right to the resume. The same can be said for paragraphs which are too dense. Aim for 3 to 5 paragraphs no longer than six lines each.
Including Too Much Information. There is some information that you don't need to include in your cover letter. In fact, including it can hurt your chances of securing an interview. Don't give employers any more information than they need to know.
Not Providing Concrete Examples. Expressing empty opinions about your strengths will generally not convince employers about your suitability for the job.
Back up your statements about your assets by referencing a job or role where you successfully employed that strength. For example, instead of simply stating "I possess strong writing skills and an outstanding work ethic." try "Strong writing skills enabled me to revise a grant proposal and secure $100,000 in additional funding from the Jones Foundation."
Not Expressing Enough Interest. Don't leave the hiring manager wondering about your level of interest. Express a genuine enthusiasm for the job so that the employer knows that you are highly motivated to pursue the job.
Read More: Cover Letter Grammar Errors to Avoid | Cover Letter Examples | Cover Letter Format | Email Cover Letters