Cover letter mistakes you should avoid
Nix these things and make sure your first impression isn't the equivalent of a limp handshake.
Avoid these common mistakes when writing your cover letter.
Your cover letter is like a handshake—it’s how you introduce yourself to employers when you apply for a job. Like a good handshake, you want your cover letter to be strong, succinct, and make a great first impression.
This isn’t a part of the job application process you want to skimp on, either. A cover letter allows you to go into more detail than your resume allows, explain gaps in your employment history or your need for a career change, and make a case as to why you would be a great fit for the position. And a great cover letter can open the door to scoring an interview and, ultimately, landing a job.
Make sure your first impression is a good and lasting one by avoiding these common mistakes below when writing your cover letter.
1. Overusing “I”
Your cover letter is not your autobiography. The focus should be on how you meet an employer's needs, not on your life story. Avoid the perception of being self-centered by minimizing your use of the word "I," especially at the beginning of your sentences.
2. Using a weak opening
When writing a cover letter, job seekers frequently struggle with the cover letter's opening. This difficulty often results in a feeble introduction lacking punch and failing to grab the reader's interest. Consider this example:
- Weak: Please consider me for your sales representative opening.
- Better: Your need for a top-performing sales representative is an excellent match to my three-year history as a top-ranked, multimillion-dollar producer.
3. Omitting your top selling points
A cover letter is a sales letter that sells you as a candidate. Just like your resume, it should be compelling and give the main reasons you should be called for an interview. Winning cover letter tips include emphasizing your top accomplishments or creating subheadings culled from the job posting. For example:
- Your ad specifies: Communication skills
I offer: Five years of public speaking experience and an extensive background in executive-level report.
- Your ad specifies: The need for a strong computer background
I offer: Proficiency in all MS Office applications with additional expertise in website development and design.
4. Making it too long
If your cover letter exceeds one page, you may be putting readers to sleep. A great cover letter is concise but compelling, and respects the reader's time.
5. Repeating your resume word for word
Your cover letter shouldn't regurgitate what's on your resume. Reword your cover letter statements to avoid dulling your resume's impact. Consider using the letter to tell a brief story, such as "my toughest sale" or "my biggest technical challenge."
6. Being vague
If you're replying to an advertised opening—as opposed to writing a cold cover letter—reference the specific job title in your cover letter. The person reading your letter may be reviewing hundreds of letters for dozens of different jobs. Make sure all of the content in your letter supports how you will meet the employer's specific needs.
7. Forgetting to customize
If you're applying to a number of similar positions, chances are you're tweaking one letter and using it for multiple openings. That's fine, as long as you customize each letter. Don't forget to update the company, job and contact information—if Mr. Jones is addressed as Ms. Smith, he won't be impressed.
8. Ending on a passive note
When possible, put your future in your own hands with a promise to follow up. Instead of asking readers to call you, try a statement like this: I will follow up with you in a few days to answer any preliminary questions you may have. In the meantime, you may reach me at (555) 555-5555.
9. Being rude
Your cover letter should thank the reader for his or her time and consideration.
10. Forgetting to sign the letter
It is proper business etiquette (and shows attention to detail) to sign your letter. Err on the side of formality, and if you need any help figuring out how to close your cover letter, consider these possible sign-offs.
However, if you are sending an email cover letter and resume, a signature isn't necessary.
If you need additional writing tips, join Monster today, so the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service can help you impress employers with a high-impact resume and cover letter.
Business letters often require enclosures, which are additional pages that are not part of the letter but are attached to it, usually because the information they contain is referred to in the body of the letter.
A business letter is a written representation of the sender. Professional business letters make a good impression, while poorly crafted letters indicate that the sender is unprofessional and often call into question whether the sender is a viable business associate. Business letters use formal language and block format with no indents. Include sections for the heading, salutation, body, signature line and a designation of the number of enclosures at the bottom.
1. First Lines
Type the heading just beneath the letterhead logo. The heading consists of the date, name and address of the sender, and a reference if desired. Space down two to three lines below the lowest portion of the letterhead, and at the left margin type the current day's date, spelled out rather than abbreviated. Press “return” twice to skip a line, then write out the first and last name of the sender with company title.
On the next line, write out the name of the company even though the letter is drafted on letterhead. Press “return” and use the next few lines to write out the company address of the location where the sender typically works.
2. The Reference Line (Optional)
A reference indicates what the letter is about and is helpful to the reader when the letter is discussing something documented, such as an account with a designated number. If a reference is desired, press “return” three times to skip two lines and type “Re.:” which is the abbreviation for “regarding,” followed by a period and a colon. Press the space bar twice to skip a space and type an account number or any other number the letter is in reference to. It is also permissible to use an incomplete sentence to indicate what the letter refers to, such as “Telephone conversation of July 8, 2017.”
3. The Salutation
Enter the salutation two lines down from the reference line, taking care to address the reader formally, such as “Dear Mr. Clayton” or “Dear Ms. Jones.”
4. Referring to Enclosures
Refer to the letter's enclosures and/or the information referenced in the reference line at the beginning of the letter's body to get straight to the point of the communication.
For example: “Please find enclosed copies of the June and July 2010 account statements for the above-referenced account,” or “Please find enclosed copies of the June and July 2010 account statements for account number 1234 as previously discussed in the above-referenced conversation."
5. The Letter Body
Draft the rest of the letter's body by telling the reader why the enclosures are attached and what the reader is supposed to do with them. Usually the sender is sending the enclosures because they were requested or because the sender needs the reader to use them to solve a problem. Either way, explain to the reader what he is supposed to do with the enclosures. Short-letter bodies are one paragraph. If two or more separate thoughts are included in the body, break each thought into its own paragraph with a line between each.
6. Closing the Letter
Skip one line and type “Sincerely” followed by a comma, or some other professional indication that the sender is bringing the letter to a close. Space down at least four lines and type the sender's full name. Sign the letter in ink between the “sincerely” and the typed name.
Type “Enclosure” two lines down from the typed named below the signature for one attachment, or “Enclosures (2)” for two enclosures. If there are more than two enclosures, type the appropriate number in the parenthesis.
About the Author
An attorney for more than 18 years, Jennifer Williams has served the Florida Judiciary as supervising attorney for research and drafting, and as appointed special master. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Jacksonville University, law degree from NSU's Shepard-Broad Law Center and certificates in environmental law and Native American rights from Tulsa University Law.
Suggest an Article Correction