Cover Letter

Top 10 Cover Letter Mistakes

Along with the resume, your cover letter will be the first thing a recruiter sees of your application. So, obviously, you should spend some time on it and make it perfect, right?

Nobody's perfect, of course. Mistakes happen. But many of us would be surprised at the simple mistakes many make on their cover letters. In a competitive hiring environment, the applications that move forward for interviews are the ones that don’t have these mistakes. The rest, unfortunately, end up in the trash. 

To get you started, here are ten common, and easily avoidable, cover letter mistakes that can sink an application.

1. Typos, Misspellings, and lack of Proofreading

Just getting this out of the way. You may think this goes without saying, but since proofreading and review are still common issues reported by recruiters, we’re saying it. The cover letter should be error-free. Proofread. 

Have your friends proofread. 

And proofread again.

2. No Clear Beginning, Middle, and End

For ease of reading, a cover letter should have an introduction, a middle paragraph about your fit with the job, and a closing paragraph with a thank you, a salutation and invitation to contact you.

There are variations depending on the audience and industry. But cover letters are supposed to be easy to read, and straying from a skim-able format makes reading much, much harder. This model should illustrate that the cover letter is short and to the point. Get in, entice the reader, and get out.

3. Not Addressing the Advertised Job or the Hiring Company

A good, targeted cover letter should address the company and the job posting for two primary reasons.

First, a generic cover letter gets no results. If you write a letter for a job and it doesn’t talk about the job itself, the values of the hiring company, or key phrasing regarding the industry or advertised skills, a recruiter is going to throw your application in the trash.

Second, many application portals include software that scans cover letters and resumes for keywords relevant to the job. If you target your resume for the job and company, you have a much better chance of getting past these screening measures.

4. Using Strange, Archaic, or Improper Introductions

We aren’t used to writing professional letters these days, and introducing yourself in one can be incredibly awkward unless you’ve done it a few times. 

That being said, a good rule of thumb is to be natural, avoiding overly-formal language. Don’t open your letter like you are writing home from war. Write as if you were composing a note to a colleague. Opening with a simple introduction, followed by the purpose of the letter, is a good baseline to start without sounding archaic or stiff.

5. Providing Too Much Information

A hiring manager or recruiter will read potentially hundreds of applications for a job. Understandably, they won’t want to read the condensed version of your life story in a cover letter. They want the elevator pitch. The easier you make your cover letter to read (through brevity and conciseness) the better.

Focus on introducing yourself, providing contact information, and articulating what you would bring to the company.

6. Not Stating Your Fit for the Specific Job

The cover letter should, at its heart, highlight the key reason you’re great for this job. The middle paragraph in particular should discuss what it is you are bringing to the table, highlighting any key values or skills.

These skills and values should map directly onto desired skills and values listed by the job advertisement and on the company website. Make the connection between your talents and the needs and goals of the company sound natural, but make the connection explicit.

7. Lacking Personal Introductions

Most times, you won’t know who your letter will reach. In this case, a simple “Dear Hiring Manager” works. But, do your research and find out if there is a hiring manager or committee head. Sometimes, information like this will be part of the job ad. In the case of a smaller company, this might simply be an owner or high-level manager. If there is a contact name on the job advertisement, or the company has a small staff with an obvious contact, address them by name.

​8. Repeating Information on the Resume

Don’t repeat the resume. The cover letter should provide additional information, and it should be giving a super-high level of context for your application. And, it should stand on its own.  Highlight key events or accomplishments not fleshed out in that resume. Provide them here in a way you can link to core needs of the company.

9. Making it About You, Not Them

You’re awesome, we know. They’d love to have you. 

But please, make the case for how you can contribute to their operation. Be modest, and frame this information in terms of how they can benefit. Don’t talk about how much you love their company or service. They may, in an interview, ask what you want to work with them, but right now you are making the case for why they should want you, which means telling them what you can do for them.

  10. Providing Irrelevant Information

Likewise, one way to drag out a cover letter is to talk about irrelevant information. Applying for a graphic arts positions? Then your letter should talk about your passion and accomplishment in graphics arts, not your job managing the electronics section of a department store. You may be proud of that job, but it isn’t what the hiring manager wants to see.

Keep it powerful, short, and laser-focused on the job at hand.

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Written By Career Operative's Branding Experts