Five Common Cover Letter Mistakes

John Krautzel
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While almost any cover letter creates an introduction between you and a prospective employer, a truly wonderful cover letter succinctly explains a personal connection, your qualifications and skills that fit an employer's job description. This correspondence attempts to convince a recruiter to look into your file further by taking a look at your resume. However, some common mistakes may doom your cover letter and your entire candidate file to the discard pile.

Grammatical Errors

Even after you fine-tune your message into 12 to 15 sentences, physical errors in your letter may stick out and ruin your copy. Misspellings, errors in verb tense, subject/verb disagreements or poor English grammar could make your letter unreadable. Even one typo or grammatical mistake can make someone stumble over your cover letter and remember your correspondence for the wrong reasons.

To solve this problem, read your cover letter out loud to yourself and listen to how it sounds. Ask a trusted friend or family member to proofread your cover letter to get a fresh perspective.

Restating Your Resume

A cover letter introduces your resume instead of restating it. When you cram too much of your resume into an introductory letter, a recruiter does not learn anything new about your professional life. A cover letter then becomes boring and a waste of space.

Focus on a few important aspects of your career that you feel serve as highlights for the upcoming position. Weave the story of a past accomplishment into the narrative of the open position so it convinces a hiring manage to dig deeper.

Using Standard Verbiage

Starting a letter "To Whom It May Concern" means you do not take the time to tailor your cover letter. Although you feel the need to send 100 resumes to companies in the span of two weeks, a cookie-cutter approach does not work when a recruiter needs to see your dedication to a position. Writing about generic industry lingo in letter after letter does not mean anything because those words can pertain to any company.

Personalize your cover letter to the company at hand. Find the name of the person responsible for hiring you, and expound on a few details of the company that show you did your homework.

Focusing Too Much On Yourself

Your correspondence does talk about you but only in the context of the prospective employer. Avoid using too many "I" statements; rather, turn them into "we" statements. Instead of saying "I'm a good fit," explain to a recruiter how your experience relates to the job description and job duties by writing "We can take the company to new heights." "We" shows you are a team player. If your sales experience at Smith's Exteriors can move a new sales team forward, explain why in the context of your new job.

Not Asking for an Interview

Many cover letters end with a note of thanks for the hiring manger's time and consideration. Take a more proactive stance, and ask for an interview. List the best times for someone to contact you.

Your cover letter gives a recruiter a snapshot of your personality before he talks to you on the phone. As such, make it more about working as a team for the company and less about how a firm can use your special skills and talents.

Photo Courtesy of My_Seda Dublin


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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Duncan including the request for an interview at the end of your cover letter could be a positive as the article indicates. But it could backfire, also. You may come across as too aggressive, too pushy or even too desperate.

  • Duncan  Maranga
    Duncan Maranga

    I concur with the idea of requesting an interview with your prospective employer. It sends a positive signal to your future employer that you possess the confidence and determination to take up responsibilities that require a resolute approach. I also believe such a challenge could actually ignite their curiosity to meet you.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Lydia the cover letter is about them, not about you. You are asking for the job by sending your resume. The cover letter is to show the company how they will benefit by hiring you; what you can do for that company that sets you above the other candidates. @Mario so true that you should never mention salary unless the job posting specifically said to include your salary requirements. @Catherine asking for an interview at the end of the cover letter isn't all that common. I remember about 20 years ago, if you sent a resume and cover letter in the mail, you would include the line about contacting them in the next week or so. Not so much in today's world although it is still a practice that many people follow. Do the employers even pay attention to that line in the cover letter? Probably not. As for mistakes - zero tolerance!

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    Does anyone use the recommended strategy of taking some of the focus off yourself in cover letters? Have employers responded positively to this? In my opinion it is a letter from you, asking for consideration for a job so it can't be about anything else. Also you might be applying to be one many in a particular role, so it would definitely sound odd to send a letter to a hiring manager using "we" when you don't even know who you'll be working with. Any advice on how to strike a balance with this?

  • Mario M.
    Mario M.

    I like it when recruiters post the salary range so you don't have to go through the entire process only to find out you're going to make $8.00 hr. When you know what's in it for you, you are more motivated to craft a decent Cover Letter. But you should never mention salary in the cover letter unless the ad required it.


    I never realized that asking for an interview at the end of a cover letter was so critical to the hiring process. I will be sure to do in the future. My question is are candidates automatically disqualified for jobs if they have a few grammatical or spelling mistakes in their cover letters or resumes? Or are a couple of mistakes acceptable?

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    The cover letter is the first impression you make on a hiring manager. I agree that the first and most important aspect of the cover letter is to use correct spelling and grammar. It's hard for a hiring manager to see you as a competent professional if you can't even take the time to follow the basic rules of writing. A poorly written cover letter will undoubtedly lose you the chance at an interview every time.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    I completely agree that grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors put candidates at an extreme disadvantage. I once worked with a hiring manager who quickly scanned for any errors and immediately deposited the letters with errors in the trash. It was his way to weed out the applicants who were sloppy. While it may seem unfair, it is a strong indicator of how professionals pay close attention to detail.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Jacob so very true that it's hard to write without using I. Whether in the resume or cover letter you should to remove the "I" and replace it. I remember years ago, every bullet point in a resume would begin with "Accountable" or "Responsible" and now they tell you to never use these words. Try to remember that the cover letter isn't about you per se but about how the company will benefit from hiring you. @Katharine - such a simple thing but very powerful - is taking the time to find out the name of the hiring manager. Pays off in dividends when you get called for that interview. @William no there really isn't a standard for the cover letter - not even among industries. Most companies use ATS for both cover letters and resumes. It would be great if you knew ahead of time what type of screening process the company had. Best thing you can do is think that it's going to run through an ATS which means you need to be looking for keywords to have peppered throughout your correspondence with the company. That's how your resume and cover letter gets into the hands of the hiring manager.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    Is there some kind of standard for cover letters, or does it vary among industries? Some companies use applicant tracking software to scan cover letters and some don't. Is it just the big companies that have the software to read cover letters, or does every ATS have that option? I know everyone should have a cover letter anyway, but it would help if candidates could get a peek into what applicant trackers an employer uses.

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    I definitely saw an uptick in the interviews I got when I started working hard to find a name to put at the top, instead of "Dear Sir or Madam." You have so little time and space in which to stand out- you have to avail yourself of every opportunity.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    Another common mistake that ties in with the well-made points in the article are to work to vary the start to each sentence. It is far too easy to have a list of 'I' statements in a cover letter for education, work experience and the like. Using 'we' and varying the sentence structure can really make a cover letter stand out.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Mia if there is no place to submit a cover letter, that means that the hiring company isn't interested in receiving one. Not all companies want cover letters. Many times the job posting will specify that you send a resume only. Of course, if it's resume only, then you have to make sure that it's the best resume possible as this is the only "first impression" that the hiring company will have of you. @Andrew so very true. And, if you can't find a contact, it's find to address it as Dear Recruiting Department or something along those lines.

  • Andrew  S.
    Andrew S.

    Oh, it's so true. Starting a cover letter with "To Whom It May Concern" is absolutely unacceptable in the digital age where information about a hiring manager is usually as easy to find as going to the company website and looking it up. However, if you absolutely can't find the name of the hiring manager, some people suggest using something like "Dear Recruiting Department." At least, it's a little more specific than the generic phrase above.

  • Mia Greenwood
    Mia Greenwood

    These are excellent! I really like the part about relating experiences to the specific job description and not using to many "I" statements. It's so easy to get into a habit of just listing out accomplishments. I've found that many companies don't have places to upload cover letters when applying to job postings online. What is recommended in these cases?

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Kellen thanks for your comment. I know I have sent cover letters where I ended it with my contact information and said that I would follow up next week or something like that. Was that the right way to go? Maybe as I typically did get a response - even if it was an email letting me know that although my qualifications are stellar, they are taking a pass for now. I think that it's a personal decision. I believe that the reason that a job seeker will indicate dates and times that they are available is that it is hard to get contact information to follow up with the company. This way you said it all upfront and now it's up to them.

  • Kellen P.
    Kellen P.

    These are some great tips! I especially like the part about doing your "homework." As a former hiring manager, I can't tell you how many times I saw generic (or just plain incorrect) cover letters. I could tell it was the same letter they sent to everyone! I do, however, disagree about asking for an interview and listing available times. I think this is better handled in follow-up correspondence, such as an e-mail. Maybe it's just the industry I was in, but I never hired anyone that asked for an interview (and specified interview times) in their cover letter.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Hema thanks for your comment. This is entirely up to you. You can go based upon the job posting as to what they are looking for. You should at least include the major qualifications in your resume. Remember, when it comes to a cover letter, it's not about you but about the company; about what the company will gain by hiring you. If you think about it that way, then you will know where to include your accomplishments. Example: I saved my previous company $100,000 yearly by implementing xyz and I can do the same for your company. Just a quick example but it should give you a good idea.

  • Hema Zahid
    Hema Zahid

    I can see how it’s important not to repeat the same information on my cover letter and resume. How do I decide which accomplishment to leave out of my resume and include in the cover letter? Does it need to be a major career achievement or will a minor one work just as well?

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