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.
To view the original version of this article please click here.
Cover Letter Salutation Examples
Get Formatting and Punctuation Tips
What is a cover letter salutation? A salutation is the greeting you include at the beginning of a cover letter written to apply for a job. In your salutation, you will set the tone for your letter, which should be professional and appropriate. Avoid casual salutations (“Hey There” or “Hi” or “Hello”) in your job search correspondence.
How to Write a Cover Letter Salutation
When you're writing a cover letter or sending an email message to apply for a job, it's important to include an appropriate salutation at the beginning of the cover letter or message.
Standard business correspondence formatting requires that, after providing your own contact information and the date of your letter, you then write down your contact person’s name, the company’s name, and the company’s address.
The formal salutation / greeting comes next: “Dear [Contact Person’s name].” If you have a contact person for your letter, be sure to include their personal title and name in the salutation (i.e. "Dear Mr. Franklin"). If you are unsure of the reader's gender, simply state their full name and avoid the personal title (i.e. "Dear Jamie Smith"). Leave one blank line after the salutation.
You should always make every effort to find a contact name to use in your letter. It leaves a good impression on the hiring manager if you have taken the time to use their name, especially if you needed to work a little to find it.
If this information was not provided in the job announcement and you cannot find it on the company’s web site, then it is a good idea to call the company, ask to be forwarded to their Human Resources department (if they have one), explain that you will be applying for a job there, and ask for the name of their hiring manager.
When you can't find a contact person or if you are unsure of who will be reading your cover letter, you can use a generic salutation (i.e. “Dear Hiring Manager”).
When You Have a Contact Person
The following is a list of letter salutation examples that are appropriate for cover letters and other employment-related correspondence when you have the name of a contact.
Dear Mr. Jones
Dear Ms. Brown
Dear Riley Doe
Dear Dr. Haven
Dear Professor Lawrence
Follow the salutation with a colon or comma, and then start the first paragraph of your letter on the following line. For example:
Dear Mr. Smith:
First paragraph of letter.
When You Don't Have a Contact Person
Many companies don't list a contact person when they post jobs, because they have a team of hiring staff who sort through cover letters and resumes before passing them to the hiring manager for the appropriate department.
They prefer to leave the hiring manager anonymous until he or she contacts you for an interview.
An organization may also not want to disclose who the hiring manger is to avoid emails and phone calls from applicants, particularly if they anticipate receiving a large number of applications from potential job candidates. So, don't worry if you can't find someone to address your letter to. It will be forwarded to the correct department and recipient.
If you don't have a contact person at the company, either leave off the salutation from your cover letter and start with the first paragraph of your letter or, better yet, use a general salutation. When using a general salutation, capitalize the nouns.
Examples of General Salutations
Follow the salutation with a colon or comma before beginning your first paragraph on the following line. For example:
Dear XYZ Enterprises Recruiter,
First paragraph of letter.