Cover Letter Mistakes That Could Cost You the Job

Your cover letter can be one of the most important aspects in the decision of whether or not an employer decides to give you a job. Here are some common mistakes and how to avoid them.


Not Writing a Cover Letter

It’s true that not every job application requires a cover letter, but if you are given the option to include one, you should seriously consider attaching a letter. Employers will see that you took the time to craft a well-thought out explanation of your reasons for applying for a specific job and see that you were not afraid to work harder than necessary to it. Additionally, keep in mind that even if you don’t include a letter, other candidates will, and they may stand out to the employer.

Not Using It to Enhance your Overall Application

Your cover letter is meant to be a quick summary of your experience that generates enough interest for the employer to look at your resume, but that does not mean that it should only restate that information. A cover letter should be treated as a supplemental material to help an employer decide on your value to the company. Unlike your resume, your cover letter gives you a chance to express how interested you are in this job, what your goals are for the future, and how this job will help you achieve them. It demonstrates your planning and thought, while also serving as an example of your qualities that do not neatly fit under a category of your resume. Your cover letter is an opportunity to expand on your resume, so use it.

Being Boring

While your cover letter should be professional and suited for business, it should not be boring. Let your personality come through your letter, so that employers get a better sense of who you are. Don’t just list facts. If you have an interesting story or thought, share it. Make your letter stand out.

Being Negative

Many people choose to use the cover letter to explain potentially negative information on the resume or job application or to explain a lack of experience, such as a low GPA, a job in an unrelated field, an arrest, or a gap in employment. While you can do this, many of these people tend to be overwhelmingly negative about their experiences. Yes, you want to show that you regret being wild in school, but you don’t want to undersell yourself. By sounding negative, you already make employers feel that way as well. Instead of just listing your negative aspects and explaining them, try to demonstrate to the employer that your good traits outweigh the bad, or what life experience you gained. Maybe your GPA suffered because you had to work while you were in school, so phrase it in a way that accents the valuable skills you learned on-the-job.

Being Too Aggressive

There is a lot to say for aggressive candidates in job hunts getting the jobs they want, but being aggressive needs to be balanced, or else you send the wrong impression. Don’t say that not hiring you is a mistake. This makes the employer feel like you have a huge ego. Don’t say that you can fix a company. Your employer will think about how they are doing just fine without you. Be confident, but don’t get too excited.

Not Explaining Why You Are Applying

Employers want to know why you think a job is a good fit. Make sure you explain not just what an employer can get from hiring you, but how this job would fulfill your needs, too. Have you always dreamed of working in business? Explain that. It will show your interest in the job and tell the employer why it is important to you.

Not Drawing Connections

Your employer listed specific duties in the job posting for a reason. Your cover letter gives you an opportunity to describe how your experience on your resume translates into performance in that specific role. If the job asks for sales experience, don’t just say that you were a salesman. Explain how your previous experience in selling cars better prepares you for making sales of long-term assets to clients. Explain how that summer job as a waiter taught you the value of up-selling and customer service. By drawing the connections between your experience and the job duties, the employer can already see how you fit the description without having to make conclusions.

Not Tailoring to the Company

Your can save a template cover letter in your files to help you write letters in the future, but you need to make sure you change it for every job. Not researching the job and including targeted keywords is doing yourself a disservice. Yes, it is work, but it is work that pays off, because by fitting yourself to the specific needs of a company, you are already helping the employer see not just how you would fit in a specific job, but also how you fit into the company culture. Make your letter applicable to every job.

Being Too Wordy

There is a lot of information you want to include in your cover letter, but you want to do it succinctly. Long cover letters slow down employers and bore them. Stick to no more than a page for your cover letter. If you feel like you cannot adequately address all the facts you want to include, try cutting some to make it fit. While you want your letter to be comprehensive, you need to let your resume and application do some of the work. If you write the letter well enough that the employer calls you in for an interview, you will have plenty of time to sell yourself later. Just try to generate interest with your cover letter.

Not Proofreading

Grammar and spelling mistakes, particularly in a letter look sloppy. Take the time to proofread all documents you submit to potential employers. Grammar and spelling are easy mistakes to make, but also easy to fix. Don’t look rash or uneducated by letting simple errors get by you.

Peggy Carouthers

Author: Peggy Carouthers

In a previous life Peggy worked as a human resources and hiring manager for a major national retail chain. Her expertise is in job hunting, hiring, and HR. These days Peggy works as a writer, crafting content for a range of publications.
Peggy Carouthers