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Posted by on Apr 23, 2013

10 Cover Letter Mistakes to Avoid Like the Plague

10 Cover Letter Mistakes to Avoid Like the Plague

The road to employment begins with your cover letter. This is true whether you’re going for a business management position or something entry-level. Your cover letter is the first actionable step you can take to indicate interest in a position and attract the attention of the person in charge of filling it. It’s natural that you’re stressed out and want to make sure that your cover letter is perfect. Perfection is difficult to achieve, but avoiding the following mistakes will help you tremendously.

1. Writing Too Much or Too Little

You don’t want to go on for pages at a time, but you also want more than “I’m great. Hire me.” A good rule of thumb is at least two paragraphs (they can be short) but no more than one page (compose the letter in Word before transferring it to your email to keep track of space).

2. Being Overly Critical of Potential Employer

It’s okay to talk about something you know you could improve for your potential employer—it shows that you have done your research on the company and the position. It’s best to try to word it as positively as possible: “While your web design looks good, I’m confident that I could implement a few changes to improve its functionality and visual appeal.”

3. Forcing in a Personal Story

Prospective employers love to hear stories that illustrate your great work ethic or how you’ve handled difficult situations. Telling the whole story in your cover letter, however (especially if it is lengthy), is a bad idea. After all, if you tell that story now, what story will you tell in your interview?

4. Spelling and Grammar Errors

This is pretty self explanatory, don’t you think?

5. Overly Awkward Language

You want to show off your education and your brain. That’s understandable. You do not, however, want your cover letter to look like you sent it through a thesaurus. When in doubt, use the simpler word or the word that was your first instinct. “Smarting it up” makes your letter awkward and difficult to get through.

6. Using a Template

It’s okay to have a basic format that you follow in which you can switch out specific details for the position to which you are applying. Using an actual template, though, is a bad idea—especially if you forget to take the “[INSERT JOB RELATED CHARACTERISTIC]” or “[INPUT ADJECTIVE DESCRIBING POTENTIAL COMPANY]” instructions out.  Templates lack sincerity. You don’t want the reader of your letter to think that you do as well.

7. Seeming Overly Arrogant

It’s okay to talk about your accomplishments, especially if they are specifically relevant to the position to which you are applying. Bragging, however, is entirely different and makes you look like a jerk. If you aren’t sure whether your letter seems confident or arrogant, ask someone you trust to read it before you send it.

8. Trying Too Hard to Be Funny

Inserting a joke to help break the ice or show some personality is okay. Just don’t overdo it. It’s important to remember, also, that text-based communication is a difficult medium for humor—something that requires vocal inflection, facial expressions, and body language to properly convey. If you are not absolutely sure that the humor is obvious, it is best to leave it out.

Note: Using emoticons to illustrate that you are smiling or laughing after a sentence is not a good idea.

9. Failing to Include Contact Information

Yes, your contact information is on your resume. It belongs in your cover letter as well. A simple sentence at the end of your cover letter thanking the recipient for his (or her) time and inviting him (or her) to get in touch with you and following that up with your preferred method of communication’s details is the best way to do this.

10. Not Asking for the Interview

Leaving the next action up to the person who reads your cover letter is a bad idea. It seems polite because we’re taught not to ask for things in polite society. This is not polite society. You are after something specific: an interview. It is okay to include “I’d really like the chance to talk more in person and would love to schedule an interview with you.” You might even include “I’ll follow up with a phone call in X days.” This shows initiative and sets you apart from the hordes of other letters they have received.

These are the biggest mistakes that cover letter writers can make. If you want that interview, make sure that your letter is free of all of them. Good luck!

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About Erin Steiner


Erin Steiner is a freelance writer and blogger from Portland, Oregon. She writes about a variety of topics.

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1 Comment

  1. Good, basic info; thanks. But the question really is: who reads / sees a Cover Letter? Are they reviewed by a recruiter once the resume is scanned electronically? Are Cover Letters electronically scanned, like resumes, and as such, need to have several key-skill words used? I’m hearing different opinions from various sources. Thanks. Steve Lovig, PHR, MS

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