To err is human—as long as we’ve learned a lesson from our errors, we’re all good. But some omissions can cost you dearly, and making cover letter mistakes may cost you a promising career.
Proving that you’re the right candidate for the position in just a few paragraphs can be a true challenge. To make sure that you’ll never risk your dream job because of such slips, we present you with insightful cover letter dos and don’ts. Keep reading to learn more!
As a summary of your professional background, a cover letter should include a heading with your contact information, a greeting, an introduction, a summary of your skills and experience, and a sign-off.
Some of the most common cover letter mistakes include being informal, failing to properly format your document, not proofreading it, and talking only about yourself and not about what you can offer.
Making mistakes in this document may lead to negative consequences, such as being rejected.
What Should Be Included in a Cover Letter?
Choosing what to include in a cover letter is usually a challenge for many candidates. In a matter of sentences, you can stray away by listing irrelevant details and end up with a jumbled document that is hard to follow.
A well-formatted cover letter should:
Cover Letter Format
Be written in a business letter format
Have 1–1.5” margins
Feature a professional-looking font, such as Times New Roman, Helvetica, Calibri, Cambria, Garamond, Arial, etc.
Have font size set at 10-12 pt
If you were wondering how long a cover letter should be, the answer is one page, or 250 to 400 words. But what could you possibly say with so few words, figuratively speaking?
While a cover letter elaborates on your work biography, it’s not your autobiography. There are several key elements that every well-written cover letter should contain. Those are:
Mandatory Cover Letter Sections
Heading featuring your full name, job title, and contact information
Body including your most relevant skills, qualifications, experience, and accomplishments
Reasons for applying
Conclusion and sign-off
16 Cover Letter Mistakes You Should Avoid Making
When crafting a cover letter, your ultimate goal should be to impress a hiring manager. With a bad cover letter, however, you’ll only make them discard it and reject your job application.
To prevent this, we’ve compiled a list of the worst cover letter mistakes you should never make.
#1. Being Too Formal
Starting your cover letter with ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ or ‘To whom it may concern’ is a one-way ticket to being turned down. The Regency Era, when everything was about formality, is long gone, and you certainly don’t want to sound like a character from a Jane Austen novel.
True, cover letters should be professional, but they should be personalized as well. To achieve that, you should avoid unnecessary formality. Do stick to the professional tone, but adapt it to fit the organization you’re addressing.
The best way to begin is to use a recruiter’s name or surname. If you don’t know it, ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ or ‘Dear Recruiting Team’ will be sufficient.
#2. Being Too Informal
While you won’t be a stuck-up who addresses hiring staff as Sir or Madam, you won’t greet them with ‘Ayo bro, what’s up?’ Being overly casual may portray you as unprofessional, not serious about the job, and unfit for the role.
Keep the conversational tone, but remain professional and don’t cross the line trying to be overly friendly. More importantly, don’t force niceness—if you’re maintaining a friendly tone, make it come naturally.
#3. Repeating the Same Info From Your Resume
Repetition is indeed the mother of all learning, yet it’s to be avoided in your cover letter. Reiterating information you’ve already included in your resume only indicates you don’t understand the essence of a cover letter.
What you need to do is support the information you’ve provided in your resume with accomplishments, figures, sales, increases, statistics, etc. Failing to do so is one of the gravest cover letter mistakes, as it doesn’t prove you’re worth the role.
If you don’t have anything to add, elaborate on your achievements in more detail, focusing on how you can add value to the company or contribute to its mission.
#4. Using Cliches
In an attempt to make a recruiter believe you’re the right person for the role, you may use cliche phrases such as ‘exquisite team player,’ devoted problem-solver,’ ‘excellent negotiator,’ etc. Up to a point, this is fairly valid, as these soft skills are essential for almost all jobs in the market.
But this is precisely a problem—these buzzwords are so ubiquitous that they’ve become cliche. Everyone—you included—can be an excellent negotiator or communicator, but are you able to back it up with particular details or achievements?
Such buzzwords, along with expressions like ‘guru,’ ‘ninja,’ and 'master,’ belong to the group of words to avoid in a cover letter, so don’t be tempted to include them in it.
#5. Not Using the Right Format
A bit of creativity and uniqueness in your cover letter can’t do much harm… except result in you being dismissed from the hiring process for overdoing it.
While you may want your letter to stand out from others, make it do so in terms of content, not appearance. Limit the use of colors and graphics, and stick to the proper business format with a professional font.
Break large blocks of text into smaller ones to facilitate skimming for the required information. Don’t exceed the word limit—you should have 250-400 words placed between 1 to 1.5-inch margins on each side.
#6. Not Signing Your Cover Letter
Although you’ll be submitting your cover letter electronically, you still need to sign it. Forgetting to add your full name at the end of the document will be considered sloppiness and a lack of attention to detail.
On the other hand, if you’re sending your cover letter via mail, it’s best to put your handwritten signature between the closing phrase and your printed full name.
#7. Not Following the Instructions
If an employer provides particular instructions on what to include in a cover letter and in what format to send it, don’t ignore them. There is a legitimate reason for their requirements, and failing to comply with them would mean automatic disqualification.
Besides allowing a hiring manager to scan the necessary information faster, these specific criteria and instructions are there to prove whether you can recognize significant details.
Hence, peruse the job ad and check if there are any specific instructions regarding writing and formatting cover letters, making sure you follow them all.
#8. Using a Template/Stock Cover Letter
The internet abounds with template cover letters you can use to generate your own. Doing so will undoubtedly spare you a significant amount of time. Simultaneously, however, it will show that you’re lazy, unbothered, and not motivated enough.
Letting AI do its magic and craft a cover letter for you isn’t a good idea. Recruiters and hiring managers can spot AI-generated letters within the first few glances. It’s much wiser to use the cover letter examples you find on the internet to get a glimpse of how to create your own from scratch.
#9. Failing to Proofread Your Cover Letter
Not proofreading emails and documents before hitting the send button is possibly the worst error you can commit. Still, “speling and grammer” errors are the key reason why around 58% of cover letters get dismissed.
A cover letter that contains such errors implies that you might have weak written communication skills and poor attention to detail. So, failing to proofread and correct them ultimately reduces your professional credibility.
Before sending both your resume and cover letter, check if there are any mistakes. Let them sit overnight before you proofread them, or ask your family or friends to do it for you.
#10. Focusing on Yourself Too Much
Even though this is your cover letter, with which you’re supposed to introduce yourself and elaborate on your professional experience and skills, it is not about you. But how’s that possible?!
The truth is that an employer is interested in your competencies and accomplishments only to see if their company can benefit from them. They don’t really care why you love their company; they care about what you can bring to the table.
Therefore, craft your cover letter so that it illustrates how you can help the prospective employer’s company grow and profit.
#11. Mass Sending the Same Cover Letter
Yes, writing a new cover letter for every job application is a real nuisance; it’s much more convenient to create a universal one and submit it whenever it’s called for.
However, the fact that it’s more convenient doesn’t mean that it’s helpful. This can take you to the point of bidding farewell to your dream opportunity since 63% of employers want a cover letter tailored to the position.
Such a generic cover letter implies that you’re not quite committed since you’re not willing to put in extra effort and personalize the document.
So, don’t be lazy; research the job description and craft a cover letter for each position you’re applying for by including the main keywords from the ad.
#12. Omitting Your Most Relevant Skills
A cover letter is a handy opportunity to discuss why you haven’t listed specific hard and soft skills required by the job description in your resume. If you’re not cautious, this can turn into a double-edged sword.
What is essential here is not to make missing a skill obvious. Instead, emphasize your strongest skills that are relevant for the position.
Read the job description carefully, identify the skills that match yours, and reconsider your achievements to back them up. Refrain from listing skills that aren’t relevant to the role, as you won’t be able to take any advantage of them.
#13. Saying Too Much or Too Little
It is a common cover letter mistake to use this document to elaborate on your experience, education, skills, qualifications, hobbies, interests, etc. This is far from impressing the recruiter snowed under with hundreds of applications.
What a recruiter is looking for is a brief summary of who you really are. It’s perfectly fine to mention what you do in your free time, but don’t dedicate an entire paragraph to it. Remember that the emphasis should be on relevant experience.
On the flip side, having too little to say will make your cover letter look rather sparse. If you are just starting your career and have no experience, focus on your achievements at the university that could be relevant to the position and highlight them.
#14. Not Including Call to Action
Before you close and sign your cover letter, you should let a recruiter know you’re available for the next stage of the hiring process—the interview. Don’t be shy; request it directly by stating that you’re open to an interview and state when they can reach out to you.
Just thanking the recruiter without including a strong CTA will make them think you don’t take the initiative and reject you as a candidate.
#15. Exceeding One Page
You might think that a cover letter is a good place to narrate your entire professional background. However, recounting your decade-long career would mean turning one page into a minimum of three pages.
And honestly, no one would like to read such a long cover letter where you chronicle all your previous roles and achievements. The main objective of a cover letter is to summarize your career accomplishments and goals and possibly mention something you omitted in your resume but is essential for the job application.
#16. Talking About Salary Expectations
Is there anything worse than mentioning salary too early during an interview? Yes, there is—discussing an expected salary in a cover letter!
While it is perfectly acceptable to negotiate a salary, a cover letter is not an opportunity for that. Doing so may make it seem like you’re more interested in the benefits the job offers than in how you can contribute to the company.
So, never mention your salary expectations in a cover letter unless you’re instructed to do so. Focus on your skills and achievements, as well as how they can contribute to the success of the company.
In the best-case scenario, a cover letter is supposed to present you as a perfect candidate. Yet, if you submit one full of errors and omissions, it can only portray you as sloppy and show that you don’t pay much attention to detail. Hopefully, the list of cover letter mistakes we’ve compiled will shed light on what those slips are so that you don’t make them ever again!