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 will entice the recipient to review your resume.
A bad cover letter, on the other hand, can nip your chances in the bud. Below are eight cover letter 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. Even if the job ad you're replying to doesn't specifically state the need for a cover letter, send a cover letter.
2. It's not about you
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 make significant contributions 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 clichés and don't be boring -- 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
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 rehash your resume
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 what's your resume.
Cover letters are an opportunity to expand upon some of the key correlative bullet points listed in the Work Experience section of your resume.
Ask yourself: What experience is on my resume that I’d like this employer to know more about? Which past job most relates to the one I'm applying for? Focus your cover letter on these -- go deep, and bring to life learnings that have room to be fleshed out in your cover letter.
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 it 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 your Unique 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 the position?
What can you offer that no other applicant can?
8. Use strong language to describe yourself
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. Best of luck with writing your cover letter!