Don’t Ruin Your Job Interview: 9 Cardinal Cover Letter Errors to Avoid

The cover letter, ugh! Without a question, it is among the most painful components of the hiring process! While some businesses do not demand one, the majority do. You would be mistaken if you believed that creating a cover letter was simple. Although it is simple to write a basic cover letter, nobody wants that. In order to prevent jeopardizing your chance of getting the job you desire through an interview, let us examine common cover letter errors and how to steer clear of them.

Now for the amusing (or not so amusing) story: We have discovered while writing this piece of content for you that some of us have been committing pretty much every cover letter mistake there is. Maybe for once, the stars were in our favor, and we intended to write this article to teach you how to write effective cover letters that will not prevent you from getting an interview.

P.S.: You will now begin to see why you were not given interviews for the positions you so desired. You awful cover letter, how dare you!

Let us get started now; We will stop babbling and making you feel awful about yourselves now. This blog is the result of extensive study, thus it combines information we collected on professional websites, LinkedIn, and podcasts.

Why You Must Still Make an Effort with Your Cover Letters (The Third Wheel)

First, let us define this “cover letter” that keeps coming up. This is a simple definition in case you do not know or if you are completely fresh to the job market: You should submit a cover letter, or perhaps a motivational letter, along with your résumé. Yet, as opposed to merely restating what you wrote on your CV, the cover letter allows you the chance to further discuss reasons you think you are an appropriate candidate for the opening in terms of your skills, principles, passion, enticement, and character.

You will differentiate yourself from other applicants if you write a strong cover letter. Additionally, cover letters allow you the chance to address issues that your CV cannot, such as work gaps or changing careers. Additionally, we heard about someone who discovered that applications for a position they truly wanted were closed. They then wrote a compelling cover letter and motivational letter, sent them off, and succeeded in getting an interview!

Just a brief aside: Before you apply, make sure you properly read the job description. A few applications merely ask you to submit your résumé (without a cover letter) or to respond to a few questions. Contrary to some pretty divergent perspectives, the majority of employers you will currently apply to have required a cover letter.

Therefore, we have read various opinions on whether recruiters and business experts genuinely read your cover letter. In actuality, a cover letter is preferable to none at all! One post we read compared a cover letter to a spare tire, saying that you ought to never drive lacking one or submit a job application without one.

We came across a few great comments on why cover letters are so crucial while looking up views on cover letters on LinkedIn. Read a couple of them:

Having said that, your spare tire must be in decent shape in order for it to function, right (we are still talking metaphorically)? Identical to your cover letter. Your cover letter must be strong, well-written, and well-thought-out and should show how your beliefs, personality, and hard and soft abilities complement those of the firm you are applying to.

This takes us to…

9 Common Cover Letter Errors

A weak cover letter can hurt rather than strengthen your application. The host of a podcast we listened to, titled “How to Write a Cover Letter” from Enhance Training, discussed how candidates sometimes squander opportunities with a weak or generic cover letter. Because of this reason, we want to emphasize the very first critical cover letter error: Never write your cover letter generically!

It can be tempting to: a) replicate what you find on the Internet, or b) copy-paste from your résumé because there are a ton of generic templates you can get online that employ overused phrases (more on that later). However, do not adhere to this because, according to statistics, 80% of candidates never even get past the CV stage. The recruiter or hiring manager will send you to the discarded pile after taking one glance at that hot mess.

The following other important errors should be avoided in the same way you tried to avoid COVID-19:

  • Failing to conduct any research on the business and the position before creating your cover letter.

It seems obvious, isn’t it? But because you did not do enough investigation, you erred. Look at the mission and values of the business. Do they match your own beliefs? If so, your cover letter must reflect this. Additionally, you should research the business and what it does by looking at news items, the corporate blog, business periodicals, and LinkedIn. As you gain more knowledge about the company and the position you are applying for, you will be better able to personalize your cover letter and discuss how you can contribute to its aims, objectives, future, and culture. Even more crucially, you must comprehend and explain in your letter the way you can contribute to the company’s achievement of its objectives (as specified in the position you are seeking for).

For instance: “Having the necessary expertise [over the years] in [doing something] and overseeing a team of 10 designers, I can help the company accomplish [this or that] and get through the current challenges that the division of design is facing.”

  • Failing to modify your cover letter for the position you are applying for.

As we previously mentioned, it can be tempting to make use of the identical cover letter for all of the positions you apply for, with a few little changes. But if you are truly interested in the job, you need to show how your abilities—again, both hard as well as soft skills—match the position specifically. Since your CV is limited in what it can say, employ your cover letter to elaborate on how your abilities are transferrable and pertinent to the precise requirements of the job role. For instance, the fact that you are good at making websites using website builders that allow you to alter the layout, the colors and fonts, the links and controls, and much more with the drag-and-drop editor, etc. does not mean that you can apply to a job announcement for a web designer per se. This is because the job announcement may require more than a mere website builder. But if you explain in your cover letter what were the steps where you needed to do coding in the process of creating a final product via online builders, you are good to go.

  • You are overusing the “I” or exaggerating.

Keep in mind that your cover letter should demonstrate to the hiring committee and business what YOU can perform for THEM. Therefore, discuss the company (its mission, beliefs, culture, products, or whatever it is that makes you interested in it) and how your talents and expertise match what they are looking for. Additionally, continuously praising yourself and attempting to defend your qualifications can come out as conceited (or even insecure).

According to Brett Ellis, Diversity Recruiting Specialist, this is what you should pay attention to:

  • Being trite.

You might have a bad habit of using clichés and clichéd language, especially in cover letters. We will show you the terms and phrases to omit from your next cover letter if you continue reading.

  • The amount of praise you give the business (or yourself) is excessive.

Sure, you should (ideally) admire the company you are applying to, but extolling the virtues of the organization and telling everyone how fantastically, astonishingly awesome they are will only come across as phony and overly earnest.

  • You are not treating yourself with respect in the right manner.

You do not necessarily need to emphasize it if you lack a particular talent or experience. Instead, pay attention to what you DO have and the things that you can contribute (but avoid using this cliché in your letter).

  • You are explaining why you left your former employer and then disparaging that organization.

You can undoubtedly clarify why you are looking for work, but you should never say something to the effect of “My previous boss and their leadership were horrible”. You can discuss this in your interview (but definitely word it better!).

  • You have previously inquired about your pay.

Not good! Only in your last interviews should you bring up this topic. Just be sure to properly study the application process’s prerequisites. The wage range you need or anticipate receiving is a question on several applications. However, you will not include that in your cover letter because the online application typically has a space for you to respond to this.

  • Writing errors were not previously reviewed.

Yes, this is a major issue! Get some help if you know you are not the best at writing or editing, whether it is from a professional (there are companies that will help you produce your cover letter) or from friends or coworkers. Nothing, and we mean nothing, looks worse than a text that has been incorrectly edited and proofread, in our opinion as editors. Additionally, even while one mistake might not put your entire application in jeopardy, always err on the side of caution and double check your work!

Furthermore, the cover letter is a good opportunity to highlight your proficiency in written communication. Clear, straightforward writing has become less common, according to recruiters. Many people today are incapable of crafting a meaningful, well-thought-out message because they are so used to writing in 140 characters or in text snippets. Cover letters show that you can create a well-planned, clear, and well-structured message—especially if you are seeking a writing or editing position.

Avoid These Common (Or Cliché) Cover Letter Blunders

Common mistakes are not named that for nothing! Everybody who has ever applied for a job throughout human history has probably erred in at least one (if not all) of the following ways:

  • Your cover letter is excessively wordy.

Perhaps, you have a long attention span and are prone to waffle when you write. You have always believed that cover letters ought to be longer rather than shorter? Wrong! One A4 page is the maximum length for your cover letter; three-quarters of a page, or roughly three to four paragraphs, is even better. Get right to the point; you can even utilize bullet points to describe how your talents correspond to the requirements of the position. Show how your abilities and expertise are the perfect matches for what the employer is looking for by highlighting two or three of the most important job demands from the job description. Added bonus points:

  • Make sure to use the same typeface for both your cover letter and CV (you can use templates; e.g., use resume.io).
  • Use a legible font, such as Ariel or Times New Roman.
  • Use a font size of between 10 and 12 (one podcast suggested 10.5 is best).
  • To break up your material, use paragraph breaks and bullet points. Nobody enjoys reading lengthy texts/paragraphs. Heck, go ahead and bold some words or entire headers!
  • The wrong person is being addressed.

Get the spelling correct and do your best to identify the hiring officer or internal recruiter (frequently, you can discover who submitted the job position on LinkedIn)! If you have heard the recruiter’s name, address them as “Dear [First Name]”. If you are having trouble figuring out to who you should send your letter, choose “To the Hiring Manager”. Stay away from words or phrases that seem too formal or begin with “Dear [man’s or woman’s formal title]”given that they assume the individual’s sex.

  • You are being too formal.

Try to keep your cover letter more informal since you are not writing a thesis. Obviously, we are not advocating the use of terms like “bro” or “that’s lit”. However, we have really received cover letters containing the opening phrase “Hey” where the applicant was hired. In this situation, we suggest evaluating the general tone of the job announcement. You will not begin your letter like that if the job announcement contains a more formal tone. However, some businesses, especially start-ups, may have a lot of fun and call for a sense of humor. If that is the situation, then it is essential that your cover letter indicates exactly.

  • Giving unrelated information.

Even though it is possible that this is not the most serious cover letter wrongdoing, doing it will make your pitch longer and probably make the reader tired. According to what we previously said, you must modify your letter (even if only slightly) for each position that you apply for.

  • You sound cliché.

Even while it is a bit bad to occasionally enjoy a good cliché, the hiring manager or recruiter will, regrettably, be evaluating you based on your cover letter. Therefore, avoid using empty terms that are cliché, as we discuss below.

  • You are not effectively promoting yourself.

If you truly think about it, marketing is all there is to life. Additionally, you are solely self-promoting in a cover letter. Consider an advertisement you enjoy; it probably has a snappy title, a clever pun, or a compelling narrative. Do not forget to incorporate a headline in your cover letter that will entice the hiring manager to continue reading. Just putting your name as the sender of the cover letter will not cut it.

  • You changed your cover letter to fit the new position, but you neglected to update the company name.

This is just an illustration. That should be obvious. Proofreading is ultimately the key!

Tips for Writing a Cover Letter: Getting Going

Although creating a cover letter requires a different post, to get you going (since time and job openings do not wait for anyone), here is a common format that, fingers crossed, can land you an interview!

  • Opening paragraph:

Give some information about yourself and the position you are looking for. Here, you can even establish a personal connection with the business; perhaps you know a person who works there, perhaps you have been a regular customer for a while, perhaps you have worked for a rival firm, or possibly the founder of the business attended the same university as you. Find your HOOK and do whatever it takes to make your opening paragraph as memorable as you can. Your introductory sentence is your hook; it entices the reader to continue reading.

This is an illustration from Badass Careers:

  • Paragraph 2:

If you have not done it previously in paragraph 1, you can discuss what motivated you to put in an application for this position in paragraph 2. Was it a result of the organizational culture? Was that because you have an inspiration there that you know? Perhaps you even came across an advertisement that you thought was so creative that you wanted to work there.

For instance, “I am happy with everything you do for folks who are suffering from post-traumatic syndrome because I have firsthand experience with the devastating consequences of substance misuse. Because I want to use my [X] skills to change the world, I am applying for [Y].”

  • Paragraph 3:

Here, you should link two to three of your most important abilities to the job specifications. It is an excellent move to identify a desirable trait that the company values. Avoid rambling and instead utilize bullet points or something like that (this example is from Badass Careers too):

You must possess good communication skills. An illustration: “Nearly 95% of attendees in the more than 50 seminars and lectures I have led and given this year have expressed satisfaction with the way I presented.” (Instead of simply stating the fact that you happen to be a brilliant communicator, you actually demonstrate it).

  • Closing paragraph:

Keep it brief, please. Thank the recruiter for their time or for providing you with the chance, and express your excitement for getting back to them and your intention to follow up soon. Use your name and the words “Best Regards” as your signature.

There are often no formal guidelines for writing a cover letter. Some employers prefer one that is more organized (see our example above with the paragraphs), whilst others might want you to let your creative juices flow, especially if they are in the creative industry. Never assume that you must always adhere to a strict format. Look into the company’s mission statement and proceed from there.

Phrases and Words You Should Never Use in Your Cover Letter

Being unoriginal, overusing adjectives, and using clichés and empty adjectives are some of the most frequent errors people make in their cover letters. You should eliminate terms like “very”, “amazing”, “really”, “good”, and “nice”. Additionally, avoid using clichés and vacuous adjectives like “reliable”, “detail-oriented”, “hard-working”, “team player”, “uniquely qualified”, and “outgoing”; instead, demonstrate your abilities and strengths (and, whenever feasible, back up your accomplishments with figures!). These statements may be made by anyone and applied to ANY career or business!

Next, if you ever include any of the following in your cover letter, be sure to burn it and offer it to the job gods:

  • “I am the ideal applicant” (ideal/perfect is unachievable).
  • “I think” (demonstrates ambiguity, reluctance, and inconsistency).
  • “To whoever is concerned” (too formal or indistinct).
  • “Love” (trite word).
  • “Your staff will have a great asset if you hire me” (that is the logic you have chosen to apply: so, you are wasting paper!)
  • “I would blend in just fine” (it is not needed; you have submitted an application since it is obvious that you are qualified/would blend/fit in).
  • “I am hoping that I will hear from you shortly” (do not use the word(s) “hope/hoping”, make it more straightforward).
  • It sounds imploring when you say, “Kindly give me the opportunity to succeed”.

Summary (and Repercussions) of Cover Letter Errors

Here is a table summarizing the article about cardinal cover letter sins/mistakes, in case this was all TL;DR (which we hope it was not because we think there are some helpful things in this post to help you crush your next cover letter):

The “sin” The Cover Letter Mistake
Lust You can have a huge admiration for the business, but try not to flatter them too much!
Sloth Avoid being generic and lazy in your writing. Steer clear of clichés, meaningless adjectives, and excessively formal writing. Additionally, avoid pasting your resume into your letter.
Pride Do not overuse the word “I”, do not exaggerate your accomplishments, and do not try to be someone that you are not.
Greed Omit any reference to income in your cover letter.
Wrath Even if you feel that someone has done you wrong, refrain from disparaging another person or business in your cover letter.

So, whether or not you learned anything from writing this piece, we did. Do some study on how to write a cover letter because there is a ton of information available. One thing is clear, however: You should have a well-written, original cover letter JUST IN CASE. We are aware that you will also come across some contradictory information (and perhaps even recruiters assuring you that they no longer read cover letters). Respectfully, it can mean the difference between landing a job or being placed in the rejection bunch.

A well-written cover letter will strengthen your application and make you stick out, particularly if the hiring manager or recruiter requests additional information or clarification. Last but certainly not least, in your cover letter, express how enthusiastic you are to get the job. If you desire it, now is the place to prove it.

Good luck!

Further reading: How to End a Cover Letter, Cover Outline Examples in 2022

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By Susan Barlow

Dr. Susan Barlow is retired from academia after teaching business administration, project management, and business writing courses for over 20 years.

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