10 Common Cover Letter Mistakes That Kill Your Chances at Landing a Job

Nancy Anderson
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After spending a considerable amount of time perfecting your resume and crafting a cover letter, the last thing you need is to submit application materials that are incorrectly formatted or riddled with errors. The cover letter is one of the most important documents to prepare during your job search, so it is imperative to avoid mistakes that can land your hard work at the bottom of the pile. Avoid these errors when writing a cover letter to improve your career opportunities and put you one step ahead of the rest of the candidates.

1. Failing to Proofread

A cover letter that contains even one spelling or grammar error increases the chances of hiring managers tossing it in the trash. The presence of sentence structure or punctuation errors also leaves a negative impression and indicates that you may produce sloppy work on the job. Take the time to spell check and proofread your letter multiple times. Ask people in your professional network to review the document or make an appointment with a career counselor to review the structure and proofread for errors you may have missed.

2. Rehashing Your Resume

It is likely that you are submitting your resume with your cover letter, so the two documents need to be unique and distinctive. Avoid just repeating your experience and the duties of each position in your cover letter. Instead, focus on a few examples of your work that highlight your skills, talents and accomplishments in previous positions. Expand upon how you have worked successfully with teams, met important deadlines and interacted with customers to enhance the company's image, productivity and profitability. Your cover letter should focus more on information that cannot be found in the resume versus repeating the same details.

3. Including a General Greeting

Applicants who begin their cover letters with "to whom it may concern" may be limiting their opportunities to obtain interviews. This general greeting shows that you have not taken the time to research the company and identify a hiring manager. Generalized language also leads potential employers to believe that you are using a template for all positions versus personalizing the cover letter. Focus your preliminary research on determining who is handling the hiring process. Call the company to identify a department head or supervisor who will be reviewing application materials and appropriately address the letter with this information.

4. Using a Template

Hiring managers can easily detect a template. This general document allows you to insert the position and the company name while keeping your information the same for each position. Avoid this practice at all costs. The impersonal nature of a template communicates that you are taking short cuts during the job search. Instead, personalize your cover letter for each job opening. Include details about the company you have uncovered while researching, and tailor your skills to the desired qualifications listed in the job description.

5. Violating the One-Page Guideline

Even if you have decades of experience and accomplishments you want to highlight in the letter, resist the urge to write more than one page. Cover letters need to be concise and clear. Candidates who go on and on about their qualifications and use wordy phrases run the risk of boring the hiring manager. Stay focused on the most relevant experience and skills to keep the document to one page.

6. Inserting a Photo

You may have the most attractive smile, but it is never appropriate to include a picture in your cover letter. This practice can be viewed as egotistical and may even lead hiring managers to discriminate against you based on perceived age, gender or race. Save the smile for the interview instead.

7. Sharing Personal Information

All information included in a cover letter should be closely related to your professional life. While it is acceptable to mention volunteer experiences and community involvement, avoid revealing personal information. Candidates who reveal family obligations and the existence of children open themselves up to potentially unfair assumptions by hiring managers who may question their ability to juggle home and work life.

8. Incorporating a Casual Tone

Cover letters need to be written in a serious and formal tone. Even if the company's image boasts a casual, laid-back style, resist the temptation to write casually and informally. Represent yourself professionally with language that is related to the industry.

9. Focusing Solely on Training

Your education and professional development is important to include on your resume, but potential employers want to see how you have used this knowledge. Instead of boasting about the number of degrees you have earned in your cover letter, show how you have used this knowledge to revamp policies, procedures and productivity in previous positions. Note how your leadership training has aided you in the past.

10. Missing Hyperlinks

The digital era has transformed how job seekers craft their application materials. It is necessary to include links to your online portfolio or sample work. Instead of just mentioning that you have published professional work or run a successful blog focused on the industry, include hyperlinks so the hiring manager can see it for himself.

It takes time and effort to craft a cover letter that is engaging and compels the hiring manager to seek out your skills. Avoid these mistakes to increase your career opportunities and land the job of your dreams.

Photo Courtesy of strike jobs at Flickr.com


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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Kristen if it were me, I would certainly discuss my achievements in an unrelated field and then show how my experience and skills from that job could be utilized in the new position. People change careers all of the time and you can simply explain why you are looking for a career change.

  • Erica  T.
    Erica T.

    It's very easy to find the hiring manager's name these days by making one or two phone calls (or a quick Internet search if you have enough information to find the right person). A few days ago, I called an ad agency in regards to a job I'm interested in applying for. The posting mentioned the department, but not the hiring manager or HR person's name, so I called the company and asked. Companies are used to people calling with this type of request and are usually very happy to supply prospective employees with this kind of information.

  • Kristen Jedrosko
    Kristen Jedrosko

    @Nancy In an answer below, you mentioned that for college graduates who have not had jobs yet they could use their education experience in their cover letter. What about if a person has had a job or a degree in a field different than the one they are applying for? Is it best to discuss their achievements in an unrelated field or would it be better to try to stretch and connect these achievements to what they may be able to accomplish in this new job?

  • Shaday Stewart
    Shaday Stewart

    When editing a cover letter, it's just as important to pay attention to flow. After all, a formal tone doesn't have to sound wooden. One easy way to get your application tossed is to write extremely boring, repetitive sentences that just give a lot of facts or empty statements without making connections to the post. For example, avoid the "I, I, I" syndrome. "I am applying for the publicity assistant position. I was excited to see your job posting. I graduated from Georgetown University with a BA in public relations." There are other ways to write a simple sentence that doesn't sound boring and choppy. Not to mention, starting the letter this way can give the impression that you are all about yourself and unable to convey what makes you valuable to the company.

  • Duncan  Maranga
    Duncan Maranga

    While you may have hordes of professional experience that you want your prospective employer to know about, its wise if you narrow down to a few most outstanding ones. I therefore agree with the one-page guideline. You have to bear in mind that you are one in, maybe, thousands of people applying for the same position and that's why your cover letter should be as concise as possible.

  • Jacqueline Parks
    Jacqueline Parks

    Although I agree that Web speak, slang and poor grammar have no place in a cover letter, I do think that in some instances a casual tone is acceptable. I think it is important to try to discern the company culture as much as possible and then match your tone to the appropriate formality. A good cover letter shares a bit of the writer's personality and is interesting to keep the hiring manager reading. Overly stuffy cover letters can be boring and turn the reader off.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Jay so very true. Proofreading is very important. If only you could see some of the correspondence and resumes that we see on a daily basis. It is truly sad. @Jane I don't think that much has changed in reference to hyperlinks. I think if you wanted to include your beyond profile or your linkedin address that you could include it at the top of the page along with your name, email and contact information. @Hema many employers frown on templates but honestly I don't see anything wrong with it. I agree that using a template makes it easier for me to ensure that I have included everything I need to include. Anyone else have experience with using templates or reading cover letters that were made using a template?

  • Hema Zahid
    Hema Zahid

    Is it alright to use a template if I change the text every time I create a new cover letter? Templates make it easy for me to remember what a good cover letter should look like and they also save time when I’m applying for multiple jobs. Sometimes it just isn’t possible to create several cover letters all of which have different formatting.

  • Jane H.
    Jane H.

    I'd like to get your opinion on the placement of hyperlinks in a cover letter. I have traditionally included links as part of my contact information in the letterhead. I'm wondering if that is still the accepted practice or if there are new ways of handling links. Also, is your advice the same for email as it is for printed cover letters?

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    Failure to proof-read might seem like a minor issue in the grand scheme of things: after all, perhaps you have a master's degree or 10 years solid experience. But it's actually a major stumbling block in the hiring process, because it shows a lack of attention to detail at a crucial time. As a hiring manager, I admit I was disappointed when people don't proof read, because it gave me the impression that they couldn't be bothered.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    A cover letter serves as an elevator pitch as opposed to an 30-minute infomercial. Think like an HR manager who doesn't have time to read eight paragraphs about your skills. Sum it up in 12 sentences or less, split among four paragraphs, for he most effective cover letters. Better yet, make your introductory email to the company your cover letter as you submit your resume for consideration.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    I can't think of any good reason to go over one page in a cover letter, so #5 is good advice. Recruiters scan dozens or even hundreds of resumes looking for likely candidates. So a letter they can't get the gist of in about 2 minutes is likely to be passed over. An exception for this rule would only apply if you have an extremely compelling story to share. And even then, it would be very important to let the recipient know why they should keep reading after the first paragraph.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    This is really solid advice and I agree with most of it, but the one-page resume guidelines seems outdated to me. Especially in industries such as education or information technology, longer resumes are often preferred to adequately detail certifications, experience and skills. I don't think violating the one-page rule is always discouraged by hiring managers.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Abbey it can be hard to know what to say when it's your first job. Maybe you could mention how great you did on a school project. Or maybe you could discuss recognition you received from a particular professor. It's going to be quite obvious, by your resume, that you have not worked. Many companies are happy to hire newbies so that they can mold them. Honesty is always the best policy.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    The article states that you should not focus solely on training, but what if you have never held a professional position (or any working position) before? What types of experience can you draw on to show your skills without revealing too much personal information about yourself and talking only about your education?

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