Cover Letter Mistakes: 5 Things You Should Never Do

Tough competition necessitates that applicants take advantage of every opportunity possible to stand out from the crowd. Hiring managers often form their first impression of a candidate based on things like their resume or cover letter, so taking these documents seriously can mean the difference between an interview and the rejection pile.

The cover letter in particular can be a tricky thing to write because it’s often less structured than the resume—and there are fewer “hard rules” about the do’s and don’ts. But we’re here to help! Below are some common cover letter missteps you won’t want to make.

Avoid cover letter missteps by noting these five things you should never do:

1. Never Settle for Generic

Don’t send a cover letter just for the sake of including one—make your words count! Consider the cover letter a prime opportunity to sell yourself. The last thing you want to come off as is uninspired or lazy. Use keywords from the job posting to paint a vivid picture of why you’re the perfect candidate for this position, not just any old job. Yes, such individualization takes time, but remember your goal is to land a great new role, not to see how many applications you can complete.

2. Never Start Your Cover Letter With “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir”

On a similar note, realize that the lack of a proper salutation can get your interaction with a prospective employer off on the wrong foot. The best alternative to “To Whom It May Concern,” is to research the name of the hiring manager.

“The biggest misstep I find people make is not addressing the cover letter to a real person,” says Marcelle Yeager, president of Career Valet. “It is almost always possible to find the name of a person who works in HR or who would be your potential boss by using LinkedIn or the company website. Personalization is so important in all of your communications, including in a cover letter.”

3. Never Turn a Cover Letter Into Your Life Story

The preciousness of a hiring manager’s time cannot be stressed enough. Your letter needs to grab attention and provide information relevant to your candidacy, not read like a biography. Craft a one-page cover letter that presents standout accomplishments or tells an interesting (and relevant) story. Make the employer want to know you better!

4. Never Send a Cover Letter Without Checking It Over

Before other eyes see the letter, make certain the document gives the best impression possible. Demonstrate your communication skills and attention to detail by ensuring the following:

  • Consistency of font (a danger when you cut-and-paste)
  • Pleasing appearance (such as sufficient margins and a professional-looking font)
  • All proper names are correct (don’t doom your application by putting in the wrong company name or recipient)
  • Flawless spelling and grammar throughout (use spell-check, but also do a read-through)

5. Never Include a Cover Letter When Instructed Not To

Finally, remember that the prospective employer’s instructions take precedence. If a job posting specifically states not to include a cover letter, don’t submit one. Some companies simply do not possess the manpower to read this extra material, while others feel they can adequately judge who to bring in for an interview based on the resume alone. Including an unwanted cover letter gives the impression that you either didn’t read carefully or feel that you’re above following directions.

To learn more, read How to Write a Cover Letter: Essential Tips & Examples.

Written by: Beth Braccio Hering

Don't forget to share this article with friends!