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Cover Letter Mistakes & How to Fix Them

By: Michelle Metzger

Attaching a cover letter to your résumé when applying for a job can bolster perception of you as a solid candidate; it can also detract from it if you go about it incorrectly.  Your cover letter should compliment the résumé it accompanies and help paint a fuller picture of you as a candidate.  Here are some common cover letter mistakes you should be sure to avoid:

  • Recapping your résumé
  • Using a “one size fits all” approach
  • Providing a “me” centric message
  • Typos & poor grammar


Recapping Your Résumé

Cover letter writers all too often take the approach of reiterating information that is already outlined on their résumé.  Why is that a mistake?  A job candidate’s only tools to sell the recruiter on their candidacy for a particular position are usually a cover letter and a résumé.  It is a hugely missed opportunity to elaborate on your qualifications and build the picture of an ideal applicant if both documents say the same thing.

Instead of summarizing your previous job titles, try these ideas:

  • Discuss your personal strengths and how they translate to the position and company.
  • Address questions the recruiter may have.  For example, “This candidate has most recently been working as a high school teacher, why are they interested in my administrative assistant position?”
  • Provide evidence of past performance and success.  Describe positive contributions you made to a previous employer.
  • Use your cover letter to prove that you meet the employer’s most important criteria.  It can also help to use the language used in the job posting.

Using a “One Size Fits All” Approach

Recruiters can often tell when you are using a general form cover letter.  Using this approach with your cover letter conveys the message that the position applied to is just any job to you.  The hiring manager doesn’t want to hire just anyone, just like you shouldn’t want just any job.  They are looking for someone excited and interested in their opportunity.  Your cover letter needs to be relevant to the specific position and include pertinent and supportive information.  This shows a deliberate effort and interest.

Providing a “Me” Centric Message

Cover letters are often misguidedly written from the position of would benefit the writer.  This is a mistake as the employer is not looking to fill the position to benefit someone else; the employer is looking to fill the position with a stellar employee to benefit the company.

It is a given that obtaining the position would benefit you, why else would you have applied for it?  Instead, the cover letter needs to focus on what the employer will gain by selecting you.  It is not necessary to explain how you will gain personal fulfillment by working in this particular position; alternatively, describe your attributes that will make you a success if given the opportunity.  What, specifically, do you bring to the table that would positively transfer to your on-the-job performance in this position?

Cover letters have often been compared to sales letters with the applicant being the product.  Use your cover letter as an opportunity to convey your qualifications, skills, and experience that may not be obvious when reviewing your résumé alone.  Be careful not to set a pompous or snarky tone, as there is a fine line between “selling” yourself and bragging.

Typos & Poor Grammar

What is the quickest way to be portrayed as someone with lack of attention to detail and lacking in basic skills?  Submit your résumé with a cover letter that you did not take the time to proofread and edit.  Typos and poor grammar will make you look careless and will not convince a recruiter to move you forward in the hiring process.

The spell check function can be helpful, however, do not solely depend on them for editing as they cannot detect when you type in the wrong homophone or several other issues.  Here are some commonly mixed up homophones to watch out for:

  • “Their” vs. “there”
  • “Too” vs. “to” vs. “two”
  • “Its” vs. “it’s”
  • “Accept” vs. “except”
  • “Which” vs. “witch”

Read your cover letter several times, including out loud.  Also ask someone else to read it over for mistakes.  Don’t let yourself be dismissed from the candidate pool due to these easily fixed errors.

Before you submit your cover letter and résumé, carefully search your documents for these and other mistakes.  It could make all the difference in moving on to the next round of the application process.

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