6 surefire ways to screw up your cover letter

Want to annoy or—even worse—bore the recruiter or hiring manager? Just follow these worst practices, and you won’t get so much as a sniff.


Cover letters are super important.

They are your best shot at showing a hiring manager who you are, what your value is, and why—out of the large pool of candidates competing—you’re the one they should catch.

The problem is that it’s hard to create a killer cover letter that helps you land the job. It’s much easier to scribble one at the last minute or recycle a previous one.

Here are six common mistakes that repel hiring managers. By avoiding these blunders, you’ll instantly power up your cover letter and give yourself a sharp edge over your competition:

Not researching the company or position you’re applying for

In a survey by The Washington Post, 91 percent of employers agreed that “an applicant who has done research on the company or the position they’re applying for will receive greater consideration than those who send a generic cover letter.”

One awful mistake that a lot of people make is not doing their homework on the company or the position they’re applying for.

Shooting off your resume and cover letter without researching the employer makes a terrible first impression. It signals that you are lazy and lack passion and attention to detail.

Instead, do some sleuthing. Find out more about the position or company. Brush up on the company’s history, culture and values. Visit its website, and take notes. Talk to people who work in the position you want to be in.

This will catapult you above most of your competition, and it will show that you’re passionate and committed to your work.

Writing down your life story

Your cover letter should not be a novel about your life. It’s a way to market skills that will impress your employer; think of it as the highlight reel of your career. Keep it short, sweet and simple.

Try not to submit more than a page. Use bullet points to break up blocks of text, and limit paragraphs to two or three sentences to make things easy for the hiring manager to digest.

Regurgitating your resume

This is tempting, but it’s a huge waste of time, because your recruiter will probably look at your resume first. Instead, pick a few examples of your work that show what you bring to the table.

Aim to have the recruiter picturing how easy and seamless it would be to put you on his team. Briefly cite occasions when you solved workplace problems or conceived and executed projects that benefitted previous employers.

Making silly grammar and spelling mistakes

As long as you’re qualified, grammar and spelling can be overlooked right?

Not really.

Another question in the survey by The Washington Post revealed that 75 percent of employers agreed with this statement: “A well-written cover letter can improve the odds of a less-qualified applicant obtaining an interview.”

Presentation is everything. People judge us on how we present ourselves, and recruiters and hiring managers are no different.

Your potential employer will judge you by the writing in your resume and cover letter. If it’s sloppy and crammed with errors and doesn’t make sense, you’re not going to get the job.

Proofread your cover letter several times for mistakes in spelling, grammar and word usage.

Using wimpy language

Wimpy language dilutes the power of your writing and makes you look insecure and unsure of your abilities. Hiring managers don’t want that.

Trash the wimpy language; be more assertive.

Which sentence below reads better?

“I feel that I would be a valuable designer because of my experience with different arts.”

“My background with different arts will allow me to attack design challenges from a fresh perspective.”

The second one, of course. It radiates confidence and is more enjoyable to read, simply because stronger language has replaced the weak text.

If you want a free guide on 10 ways to improve your writing, you can download it here.

Being too selfish

The final and most dangerous mistake that applicants make is blabbering on about themselves without considering their reader.

Yes, you are expected to talk about yourself, but only in a way that is relevant for your potential employers.

They will be constantly asking themselves throughout your cover letter, “What can this person do for my company?

Answer that question with authority, and you’ll be one giant step closer to landing the job.

If you’ve worked in sales, explain how that made you better at handling customers, building connections and thinking on your feet. If you’re experienced in technology, talk about how that has made you more analytical and better at making decisions.

Don’t blindly mention certain skills or experiences; tell your recruiter how they will benefit the company and add to its bottom line. Sell yourself.

Cover letters don’t have to be frustrating. Avoiding the six mistakes above and following their alternatives will help you create cover letters that pack a punch and help you land the job.

What’s the biggest cover letter mistake you’ve ever made or seen?

Hassan Ud-deen is a freelance blogger and email copywriter. A version of this article first appeared on Business2Community.

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