10 Cover Letter Mistakes to Avoid

Whether it’s “put your best first forward,” you only get one chance to make a great first impression,” or some other popular saying, there’s solid wisdom in the idea that the introduction often sets the tone for future interactions and success.  This is even more so when it comes to the job hiring process.

An eye-catching, informative and professional cover letter sets the stage for a further review of your resume and can often make the difference between a callback and getting overlooked for the role.  To underscore the importance of a perfect cover letter, we’ve put together a handy list of ten cover letter mistakes to avoid,

  1. No Cover Letter

While some positions admittedly only call for submission of a resume, there is typically nothing to prohibit the inclusion of a brief summary of your relevant skills and experience to go along with your cv.  Even less forgivable is the situation where a cover letter is optional or even requested and you fail to provide one. Cover letters are an excellent opportunity to make a sales pitch for your candidacy. Failing to include the document in the first place will quickly see your candidacy downgraded.

  1. Impersonal Greeting

Cover letters should be addressed to the individual assigned to the review of your application.  In most cases, the job listing will include a name or title of who the candidate will be reporting to.  This person will often be the first reviewer or final decision maker and it’s always best to address to them specifically.  Avoid generic “to whom it may concern” salutations or “dear sir/madam” formats as they can make your cover letter appear unprofessional or stuffy from the get-go.  As a final point on salutations, be sure to keep your title’s gender neutral to best avoid any inadvertent offensiveness.

  1. Generic Cover Letter

Sure, there may be plenty of cover letter templates available to choose from, but that doesn’t mean you should be following format and content to the T.  Template cover letters start to blend together when a hiring manager is reviewing dozens or hundreds of submissions. Sticking to a tight format also undermines the whole concept of allowing the prospective employer to get to know your individual personality better.  There are several basic sets of information a cover letter should include (we’ll get to some of those later). Include that information, but try to do so in a format that fits naturally with your writing style and the position you may be applying for.

  1. Lengthy Cover Letter

A cover letter and resume aren’t like your high school dissertations on Shakespearean influence in modern literature; extra words won’t earn you bonus points.  With rare exceptions, a cover letter and resume should be no more than one page each in length. The one-page criteria isn’t an invitation to shrink margins or reduce the font size to microscopic, either.  Two to three short paragraphs should be plenty to lay out your goals, major career milestones, and reasons for applying for this particular job.

  1. Summarizing Your Resume

Another big mistake that plenty of cover letter writers make is formatting the missive to be a simple summary of your job resume.  Rather than a watered down or narrative version of your work history and skills, the cover letter should focus more on the specific position, your long-term career plans and other information that may be difficult to convey in a resume’s more stylized format.  Be sure to talk about how you believe you’d provide value to the company (more on that in just a moment).

  1. It’s All About You

Ever been on that awkward first date where the other person at the table seems unable to pick a topic that doesn’t revolve around how awesome of a catch he/she is?  Focusing solely on your own qualities or characteristics in the cover letter is the career equivalent of this car crash of a social interaction.

While offering an elaboration on your key traits and strengths as an employee is an important aspect of the cover letter, the details should all be crafted to the job you’re interviewing for and focused on how you would contribute to the team, company, and industry.  Review and re-review the job description for the relevant and desired traits. Using these facts, use your cover letter to illustrate parallels from your past experiences.

  1. Getting Too Personal

At risk of stretching the awkward first date analogy out, no one wants to hear about aunt Carol’s bunion issues over appetizers and cocktails.  Skip the personal details such as political party affiliations, weekend exercise routines, marital status and more. Not only are these questions irrelevant, they may create awkward HR scenarios for your hiring manager which could lead to your resume getting passed over altogether.

  1. Missing Contact Information

Remember the old “if a tree falls in an empty forest” query?  This important cover letter mistake to avoid involves leaving out the relevant details necessary for following up on your submission.  A well-formatted cover letter should have a header section that similar or identical to that of your CV and includes email, phone, and optional geographical/mailing info.  If you play hard to get with your contact info, you’re likely to get skipped over altogether.

  1. Grammatical Errors

It seems as if the top piece of resume advice preached across career sights large and small involves ensuring your information forwarded to potential employers is accurate and free of any glaring errors.  We’re certainly not ones to stop a good thing in its tracks. Leaving in obvious grammatical or spelling errors in your cover letter in today’s modern day and age is nearly unforgivable. Spell check and grammar tools abound and if that’s not enough, there are always too good, old-fashioned friends and colleagues to give your cover letter a fresh pair of eyes.  Proofread any communications to potential employers before punching that send button and save yourself the inevitable rejection that will follow otherwise.

  1. Inability to Follow Directions

Last, but certainly not least, on our list of mistakes to avoid on your cover letter is a candidate’s inability to read the employment application for specific requirements or directions that may be provided by future employers.  While overlooking minor details such as word length or questions to be answered may be perceived as not such a big deal by applicants, to hiring managers this is a huge red flag that you don’t have the chops needed for follow through and attention to detail.  Read the entire job description and resume submission guidelines to ensure you don’t undercut your candidacy at the outset.

Cover letters are valuable tools when used in the hands of savvy candidates.  Follow our guidelines for avoiding obvious mistakes and you’ll be a step or more beyond the competition when it comes to scoring that callback or, better yet, the position of your dreams.

Article Updated from the Original on April 3, 2018