Some links in this post may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no cost to you. But rest assured that all opinions remain my own. You can read my full affiliate disclaimer here.
When you’re applying for a job, your cover letter is often the first impression you leave on a hiring manager.
And since you only get one chance to make a good first impression, it’s crucial that your cover letter is as strong as it can be.
So after you read what makes an effective cover letter, take time to learn about the mistakes that could sink your application.
Here are seven of the most common cover letter mistakes — and what to do instead.
1. Writing a novel
Believe it or not, crafting a short piece of writing is often harder than producing a long one. You have to choose each word carefully and say a lot while keeping word count to a minimum.
But even though paring down your writing can be challenging, you’ll be better off with a succinct cover letter than one that spills over onto two or more pages.
Most hiring managers have to review dozens if not hundreds of applications, so you want your letter to get to the point right away. An overly wordy letter will likely lose their attention or even get tossed into the rejected pile.
So instead of telling your whole life story, highlight your most relevant experiences and accomplishments. You could even use a few bullet points to make your letter easily readable at a glance.
Chances are, the first draft of your cover letter will be too long. Edit, edit, and edit again until you’ve produced a sleek piece of writing that fits on a single page.
2. Addressing your letter to “To Whom It May Concern”
Although a cover letter template might say “To Whom It May Concern” is an acceptable salutation, you’ll be better off addressing your letter to a specific person.
Thanks to the internet, it’s pretty easy to find the name of a hiring manager or leader of the team you wish to join. If you can’t find a contact person on a company website, try reaching out to someone on LinkedIn for this info.
Although “To Whom It May Concern” could work as a last resort, try your best to address your letter to a specific individual.
3. Repeating everything on your resume
Your cover letter is a chance to flesh out experiences on your resume, but it shouldn’t simply be a repeat of what’s already on there. Focus on your most relevant accomplishments, rather than listing every job you’ve ever had.
Your letter is also a chance to showcase your personality and share your unique voice. Of course, you should modulate your style depending on the culture of the company.
If it’s a creative job with a startup, you’ll probably have more wiggle room to use an informal style or throw in a joke or two. But if it’s a more traditional company, you might stick with a more formal tone.
Use your best judgment when it comes to style. But above all, make sure your cover letter complements your resume, and doesn’t just repeat it.
4. Focusing solely on your goals
A common trap of writing cover letters is listing everything you want to achieve in your career. But while a hiring manager might appreciate your drive, they’re probably not super invested in your personal goals.
Instead, they’re looking for a candidate who understands the company’s objectives. They want someone who will contribute to the team and help the organization achieve its purpose.
So rather than focusing on your goals, shift your focus to what value you could bring to the company. This angle will show your reader you understand the company’s overarching mission and are eager to help them realize it.
5. Using meaningless cliches and jargon
Team player. Detail-oriented. Fast learner who thinks outside the box.
Certain phrases pop up time and again in cover letters, and they’ve been used so often as to become almost meaningless. Before sending your cover letter, weed out any cliches or industry jargon.
If possible, replace overused phrases with fresh language that will make a more memorable impression on your reader.
6. Leaving out key words and phrases from the job description
If you’re not incorporating keywords from the job description into your cover letter, your application might not be successful.
Why? Well, some companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to do an initial scan of cover letters and resumes.
ATS programs search for key phrases that pop up in the job description, such as “5 years of management experience” or “knows Java and HTML.”
If the ATS doesn’t find these keywords, it could discard your materials before a human ever sees them.
So when you write your letter, try to include certain language, skills, or requirements you see in the job description.
Even if the company isn’t using an ATS, this effort could show you understand what qualifications the company is looking for — and that you’re the person who has them.
7. Sending the same letter to every employer
Although you don’t need to write your cover letter from scratch every time you apply to a job, it could be a mistake to send the same copy to every employer.
You might use a similar base letter, but try your best to customize it to each and every position.
As mentioned above, you want to,
- Address your letter to a specific person
- Incorporate keywords and phrases from the job description
- Consider adjusting your style and tone to match the company’s culture
Every job is different, so revise your cover letter to reflect each unique position and organization.
Avoid these common cover letter mistakes
By avoiding these common cover letter mistakes, you’ll ensure your application does its job — impressing the hiring manager enough to invite you to interview.
Along with polishing your cover letter and resume, try your best to network with people in your industry. If you can make a personal connection at your target company, you’ll boost your chances of snagging an interview.
And once you get the coveted interview, make sure you’re ready to make an amazing impression on your interviewer. To get started, check out this guide on the best questions to ask to impress a hiring manager.