When it comes to the job application process, cover letters are as relevant as ever.
They complement your resume and can effectively set you apart from a sea of other candidates…
And yet, most job-seekers tend to make the same common cover letter mistakes (which can even cost them the job).
To prevent you from making the same mistakes, we compiled this list of job-seekers’ 11 most common cover letter mistakes.
Avoid these mistakes, and you’re well on your way to landing your next job!
Ready? Let’s dive in!
Mistake #1. Making it all about yourself
“How can I not make it about myself,” you might think. “After all, this is my cover letter.”
Well, yes, but here’s the thing.
You should use your cover letter to better explain why you’re the perfect fit for the company, not as free space to talk about yourself. Think about what the recruiter wants to read, not only what you want to say.
Specifically, do talk about a few relevant strengths and noteworthy achievements that will highlight your skills for the position (that you couldn’t elaborate on your resume).
Don’t overuse “I,” don’t start sharing your life story as if your cover letter is your autobiography, and don’t come up with irrelevant competencies you just assume will make you look good. Huge cover letter mistakes.
Mistake #2. Repeating your resume
There’s a quote by Zig Ziglar that says: “repetition is the mother of learning.” Great quote, but it still doesn’t justify using your cover letter to repeat your resume.
Recruiters want you to prove that you’re worth the job. But if they open your cover letter and re-read your resume (which they’ve surely already read), you’d have made a big cover letter mistake.
If you have nothing new to say, you can explain in more detail how one of your achievements prepared you for the job you’re applying for, or how you can contribute to the company’s mission. Anything that will add value instead of just listing out your job history and responsibilities will do.
Mistake #3. Exceeding one page
Your cover letter shouldn’t be an autobiography.
You might be tempted to go on and on and describe your entire career history, but that’s simply not what the cover letter is for.
A good cover letter has 3 main objectives:
- To (briefly) introduce you and your career goals
- To summarize your (relevant) professional background
- To explain anything that you didn’t have space for in your resume, but that the recruiter should know
As such, the ideal cover letter length is 250-400 words long or between three to six paragraphs.
Mistake #4. Mass sending a cover letter
Ideally, your cover letters should be tailored to each job that you apply for.
A generic cover letter that you just copy and paste from an internet sample shows you submitted one just because you have to, not out of genuine interest for the position.
Your cover letter should show that you put in the effort—that’s what makes all the difference.
If, however, you’re applying to many jobs and don’t really have the time to write, say, 20 cover letters, make sure to at least customize the company’s and the hiring manager’s name in each.
Mistake #5. Using cliches without backing them up
As you’re writing your cover letter, you might be tempted to use phrases like “I’m an excellent team player,” “dedicated problem-solver,” or “great communicator.”
Which is fair – these are very important skills but any job out there.
Here’s the thing, though: these buzzwords are used so often in resumes & cover letters today that they’ve become cliches.
Sure, you can claim to be a “great communicator,” but so do all the other applicants.
The only case we do recommend mentioning such cliches is when you can actually back them up with your past experiences.
So instead of saying “I’m a great communicator,” you say “I’m a great communicator, as proven by Experience A, B, and C.”
Mistake #6. Being too formal…or too informal
Look, extremes are rarely your friend.
So, just like your instinct probably tells you that addressing the hiring manager like you would a friend isn’t the brightest idea, you should also refrain from being overly formal.
Mistake #7. Typos and grammar mistakes
Out of all cover letter mistakes to avoid, typos and grammar mistakes should be the easiest.
Microsoft Word will underline your typos red and your grammar mistakes green, but you have the option of easily proofreading your cover letter no matter where you’re writing it.
A simple spell-checker and software like Grammarly should be enough to save you from this dreary, but easily avoidable, mistake.
Mistake #8. Unnecessary flattery
You don’t need to write a love letter to the company for the hiring manager to like you.
Sure, if you hold the company’s values, mission, or culture at a high standard, feel free to mention how it inspires you professionally.
But if you just use your cover letter to throw random compliments at the company with the hopes the recruiter will like you, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise.
Remember: you want to (smartly) flatter your achievements, not the company.
Mistake #9. Going off-topic
Going off-topic is a big no-no when it comes to cover letters.
You might think it’s OK, as long as you’re talking about work, but explaining the backstories of your professional decisions will get you nothing but a yawn from the recruiter.
For example, opening up to the hiring manager about how you decided to leave your job because you broke up with your girlfriend is (as you might imagine) totally going off-topic and definitely too much information (even if that’s the reason you did quit your job).
Generally, in your cover letter, refrain from discussing:
- Your weaknesses (unless they’re asking about them at an interview)
- Uncomfortable life/professional experiences
- Details of every job you ever had
- Reasons, excuses, or details on why you were fired from a past job (again, unless asked at an interview)
Mistake #10. Not following specific instructions
Did your teacher ever tell you to carefully read the test questions before starting to answer?
Rightfully so! Sometimes, we hurry so much to get something done that we completely miss what we are being asked in the first place.
You don’t want that cover letter mistake to happen to you, so read the job description carefully before you start writing your resume and cover letter.
If the hiring manager has any specific requirements about the cover letter’s content or format, you’ll find them in the job description. It might even happen that the position doesn’t require a cover letter at all, so give this part its due attention.
Mistake #11. Forgetting to sign your cover letter
Signing your cover letter goes a long way to showing business etiquette and attention to detail, so make sure to do that!
If you’re sending your cover letter and job application as part of an email, though, then you don’t have to sign your cover letter.
In any case, pay extra attention to how you end your cover letter. People are bound to remember the ending of things, so you want to conclude your cover letter as politely and memorably as possible.
Not sure what that means? Our article on how to end a cover letter will show you all you need to know!
And that’s a wrap! We hope you know what cover letter mistakes to look out for when you start writing. Here are a few of the main points we covered:
- Don’t overuse “I” in your cover letter. Instead, focus on describing a few of your most noteworthy achievements, relevant to the position.
- Using your cover letter to repeat your resume is a cover letter mistake you must avoid.
- Avoid using cliches such as “team player,” “great communicator” and the sorts when you’re describing yourself. Instead, prove your skills by backing them up with your professional experiences.
- Make sure you proofread your cover letter before submitting it; typos and grammar mistakes are intolerable cover letter mistakes.