Top 5 Cover Letter Mistakes to Avoid

When applying for a job, the cover letter is important.  However, it can also hurt your chances if the hiring manager discovers some common errors.  In a highly competitive job search, don’t allow your cover letter to be a hurdle to your dream job!  Here are the top five mistakes to avoid in your cover letter:

5.  Cookie Cutter / Bland: These cover letters show that you only slogged through and did not spend the time and effort to customize a letter.  Avoid cliches and write a personalized letter that is catered to the specific organization.

4.  Exaggerations:  Be honest and sincere without exaggerating your credentials and experience.  It may show that you think very highly of yourself if you use rhetorical flourishes and inflate yourself above where you are and what you can offer the employer.  Humility is a key virtue that an exaggerated cover letter will crush.  If you say you “think outside the box,” please provide an example or phrase it differently.

3.  Verbose:  A long cover letter (more than a few paragraphs) is not necessary and may indicate to the employer that you have trouble with concision.  Get to your point and respect the hiring manager’s time by keeping your letter to a few paragraphs, and certainly to one page!

2.  Repeat Your Resume:  Your cover letter is separate from your resume.  While you want to highlight the same themes and explain why you are the right fit, don’t simply repeat your resume or cut and paste the bullet points in the letter.  Spend some time drafting a genuine, unique letter that shows your marketing skills, writing skills, and why you are the right fit.  Give specific examples that don’t fit on the resume and let your resume speak for itself on your specifics.

1.  Cut and Paste:  The worst cover letter mistake is when you cut and paste your entire letter, fail to proofread, and make a mistake on the organization or business to which you are applying.  I’ve thrown out resumes like this before because it is clear the person does not value the potential employer enough to customize the cover letter or proofread.  If you do cut and paste some parts of your letter, be sure to have someone else read it and triple check that the addressee and the potential employer are correct.  It’s even worse if the potential employer is correct at one point and wrong at another.

Your cover letter can be a key selling point or a huge hurdle for your job search.  Avoid these mistakes and use the letter to sell yourself, be genuine, and show off your writing and marketing skills. Best of luck to you!

Roger Custer is executive director of America’s Future Foundation.

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