9 Things That Don't Belong on a Cover Letter

cover letter mistake

The cover letter is a valuable asset in your job hunting toolkit, giving potential employers a more well-rounded insight into your experiences, strengths, personal traits, goals, and thought-process. In many cases, the cover letter “seals the deal,” so to speak, for a job seeker and is the deciding factor in being granted an interview, especially when hiring managers are faced with several highly qualified candidates.

Here are 9 cover letter deal-breakers that you want to avoid at all costs:

1. Too much personal information

While the cover letter is your space to be more personal than the resume, take care not to be too personal. Remember, the focus is still on your professional experiences and goals. Avoid mentioning anything about family, personal interests, or hobbies that have nothing to do with your career. If you feel you have a relevant or funny personal story or anecdote that would be appropriate to share, save it for the “chit chat” portion of your job interview.

2. Your resume

Don’t simply regurgitate your resume in the cover letter. It’s not your resume in long form. A stellar cover letter will compliment, support, and expand upon the more straightforward resume so that the hiring committee or manager doesn’t feel they’re reading one version of two different documents – a big waste of time from their perspective.

3. Salary negotiations

A few employers will request your salary requirements on your cover letter, but most won’t. If it isn’t specifically asked of you, don’t include any mention of salary on your job application materials. And, if you are asked to provide a salary range, you certainly don’t want to start negotiating in your document. Ideally, you want the employer to be the first party to start the discussion around salary, so don’t offer it up unless asked.

4. Your reservations or questions about the job

It’s fine if you have some questions or concerns about the position. In fact, if you didn’t have any questions, that’s often an indication to the hiring committee that you haven’t really done your homework or given much thought to the position. But these concerns don’t belong on the cover letter; they should be raised in the interview where you can create a back-and-forth, open dialogue with the interviewer.

5. Empty adjectives

It’s a common phrase that English teachers love to tell their writing students, and for good reason: show don’t tell. Employers and hiring committees don’t need proof that you know how to use a thesaurus. They want to see how your unique traits, skills, characteristics, and specific experiences you’ve had qualify you to excel in the new role. Anyone can write that they’re “reliable” or a “problem solver” or “collaborative.” But,the key here is not to tell them how great you are but to show the employer exactly how you’ve demonstrated these characteristics in the past and how you’ll bring them to the new position.

6. Errors!

Don’t. Just don’t. Grammar or spelling mistakes, formatting errors, putting the wrong company or contact name, including misleading or untrue information… from the smallest little typo to the biggest whopping lie you can think of – none of it has a place on the cover letter (or your resume/CV, for that matter). Mistakes on your job application materials are a sure-fire way to send your application to the trash pile.  

7. Anything negative

Maybe you’re looking for a new job because your current or past employer is a nightmare. You can find a more diplomatic, even-handed way to explain this in the interview (a way that highlights your strengths and resilience), but don’t bring this up in the cover letter. Instead, focus only on your experiences and how they’ve prepared you for the position to which you’re applying.

8. A skills gap

Perhaps you need a bit more training, education, or experience in a certain area to keep advancing in your field. Again, this is better left to a face-to-face discussion in the interview where you can naturally guide the narrative towards the steps you’re taking (or planning to take) to close any skills or knowledge gap you have. Avoid pointing out any shortcomings on the cover letter, where they’re likely to make a lasting, poor impression.

9. Irrelevant keywords and phrases

As with your resume or CV, the language you use in all of your job application materials, including the cover letter, should mirror the skills and requirements laid out in the job posting. While you want to steer clear of jargon, you should include any keywords and phrases that are common to your field and to the role. This will help the hiring committee or manager to quickly assess your viability as a candidate and draw a meaningful connection between your experiences and what the job requires.

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