10 Common Cover Letter Mistakes

By Sarah Hildebrand

Photo by Burst on Unsplash

Alongside your resume, your cover letter is one of the most important parts of your job application. How well you write this document will often determine whether or not you’ll be offered an interview. With this in mind, it’s important to make sure your cover letter is as polished as possible and that you avoid making the following 10 mistakes.

10 Common Cover Letter Mistakes

1. You Didn’t Follow Directions

Some applications will ask that particular information be included in your cover letter. For example, they may want you to attend to specific traits or tasks related to the position, or they may want you to explain where exactly you see yourself fitting within the organization. Be sure to also follow any instructions about how to submit your cover letter, such as in what format you should save the document or what font it’s written in.

2. You Talked Too Much About What the Job Can Do for You

The person reading your cover letter wants to know what you can do for their organization, not the other way around. If you’re talking too much about what you could gain from being hired, you’re missing a valuable opportunity to instead be explaining why you’re the best fit for the job.

3. You Used a Template and Forgot to Change the Name of the Employer

This is perhaps one of the most embarrassing mistakes to make and one of the easiest to avoid. It’s okay if you have a “template” cover letter that you strategically revise for each new position. But don’t forget to change the name of the organization to which you’re applying or the position title. These are surefire ways to get your application moved to the bottom of the pile.

4. You Didn’t Tailor It to the Position

You should never submit a generic cover letter. Each one should be tailored to the particular position to which you’re applying. This means utilizing keywords from the job ad and making sure to highlight the experiences and accomplishments most relevant to the position. These will likely change at least somewhat amongst every cover letter you write.

5. You Repeated Too Much Information from Your Resume

Your cover letter shouldn’t read like your resume—this is your chance to expand on your resume by providing concrete examples. If your cover letter is just another list of every position you’ve held, it’s not helping to further your case. Of course you’ll mention some of those positions, but the job of a cover letter is to help provide evidence for the claims you make about the skills you possess. It enables you to tell stories about your key accomplishments rather than simply listing them.

6. You Went Off-Topic

Your cover letter should stay focused on why you’re the best fit for the position. Use this space to clearly identify your strengths and provide examples of them in action. Avoid sharing unnecessary biographical information or experiences unrelated to the job at-hand.

7. You Struck the Wrong Tone

In a cover letter, it’s better to err on the side of formality. For example, in your salutation, write “Dear _____” instead of saying “Hi” or “Hello.” You should also strike a balance between sounding overly modest and overly confident. Play up your strengths without being hyperbolic.

8. It Was Too Long (or Too Short)

A cover letter should be roughly one page single-spaced and definitely not longer. A hiring manager sifting through hundreds of applications doesn’t have time to read your autobiography. On the other hand, an overly short cover letter—a half-page or less—signals you haven’t been thoughtful about the task.

9. It Was Poorly Organized

Cover letters should begin with a greeting, move on to an explanation of your qualifications, and end with a thank you and your signature. A cover letter should also use relatively short paragraphs that are easy for a hiring manager to skim. Try to lead each one with a strong topic sentence that clearly identifies a strength.

10. It Had Too Many Typos

Always proofread your cover letter and, ideally, have someone you trust proofread it, too. Most hiring managers will have little tolerance for typos, as it signals a lack of attention to detail.