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Common Cover Letter Mistakes

Make sure your cover letter helps your candidacy by avoiding these all-too-common mistakes. [TWEET]

Once you’ve updated your professional resume, it’s time to prepare your job applications for submission. This usually involves making some small tweaks to your resume and using cover letter tips to create a cover letter to accompany your application.

But aren’t cover letters a thing of the past?

Yes and no. While 63 percent of recruiters don’t find the cover letter to be an important factor when evaluating candidates, the remaining percentage do. And since you have no way of knowing which type of recruiter will receive your application, it’s best to cover your bases and include a cover letter with every job application. As an added bonus, a reported 53 percent of employers admit they prefer candidates to send a cover letter. [TWEET]

However, not just any cover letter will do. If you’re going to take the time to craft this document, make sure it helps, not hurts, your candidacy, by following cover letter dos and don’ts. Below are 10 common and costly mistakes to avoid when writing your next cover letter.

Lack of research

Thanks to the Internet, there’s little excuse to not personalize your cover letters. Whenever possible, research the name of the hiring manager or recruiter (if it’s not listed on the actual job post) and the company who’s filling the position, and use this information to customize your opening document. If you skip this step, you’re sending the message to the reader that you don’t really care enough about the position to do your homework. In a world where employers are inundated with applications, any excuse to eliminate candidates will do. Don’t let this cover letter mistake give them a reason to cut you from the pile.

There are some exceptions to this rule. If you’re responding to an anonymous job posting, you’re not expected to include the name of the company or the hiring manager in the cover letter. When a company goes out of their way to keep their name and the names of their employees confidential, you can assume they won’t take off points if you use a generic opener.

An overly formal or casual greeting

Whenever you’re applying to a job or preparing for an interview, take the company’s culture into account. You can get a better sense of their employer brand by checking out their Careers section online, reading their reviews on Glassdoor, searching for their profile on The Muse, following the social media accounts they’ve set up for recruitment purposes, and talking to your networking connections who’ve worked at the organization. This will help you decide if you’re better off going with a “Hello Jeff” or a “Dear Mr. Berger” type of greeting.

If you’re unable to address your cover letter to a specific person, steer clear of incredibly formal introductions, such as “To Whom It May Concern,” as they are not conversational and can be considered off-putting. The same goes for super casual openers like “Hi!” Even if you’re dealing with a startup that prides themselves on being non-traditional, this cover letter mistake is a little too laidback for your first communication and may have the reader questioning your professionalism.

Play it safe and stick with a gender-neutral opener such as “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Recruiter.”

Talking all about me, me, me.

Think of your cover letter as your sales pitch to the hiring manager. Instead of spending the entire time talking about yourself and your wants and needs, consider the needs of your prospective employer. They’re the ones who will be (hopefully) reading your cover letter, after all.

Review the job description again and check out the latest news on the company. Ask yourself why they are hiring for this role. In other words, what pain point are they trying to solve with this position? When you can relate to their concerns and position your skills as the solution to their needs, you have a better chance of avoiding cover letter mistakes and capturing the reader’s attention.

Restating your entire resume

Remember, the recruiter already has your resume - there’s no need to rehash your entire work history in your cover letter. In fact, I believe this is why so many employers disregard the cover letter; they’ve read so many bad cover letters that merely summarize their candidates’ resumes, that they see no need to read them.

One cover letter tip is to surprise the hiring manager by using your opening documentation to demonstrate your understanding of the company’s position in the marketplace and their needs, and then highlight your experiences and accomplishments that speak to these requirements.

Generic messaging

Even if you’re applying to an anonymous job listing, a common cover letter mistake is using boilerplate text. While your introduction may not be as specific as it would be for a position where the employer was known, this doesn’t give you license to use a generic template for the main sections of your cover letter.

Based upon the job description, make a list of the top 3-5 requirements for the role. This may have to do with your knowledge of a certain topic or an industry, your experience performing a particular task, or your education and other credentials. Then, brainstorm how you possess each prerequisite, referencing a specific contribution, accomplishment, or experience from your work history that illustrates these qualifications. Summarize this information in a paragraph or a set of bullets. This is a great way to customize your cover letter and grab the reader’s attention.

Not following instructions

As I previously mentioned, some employers, especially those in the healthcare, education, and legal sector, still value a cover letter and will request one in their job description. Do yourself a favor and re-read the job description carefully to provide context to your cover letter dos and don’ts. Oftentimes the employer will request certain information to be included in the cover letter. The last thing you want to do is ignore this request, as the reader will assume you are not detail-oriented and unable to follow the simplest of instructions.


When you’re competing against a large pool of candidates for one role, the smallest cover letter mistakes can be used to eliminate you from the pile. These days, we’ve grown all too reliant on spell-check and autocorrect to edit our communication. It’s easy to overlook the small mistakes, such as using “higher” when you really meant to say “hire.” Don’t let these silly details derail your job application.

Follow this simple cover letter tip: reread your cover letter. Then read it again. Then hand it over to a trusted friend. You know, the one that majored in English. If you’re looking for some resources to improve your grammar and punctuation, check out Lynne Truss’ book, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation,” and “Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English” by Patricia T. O’Conner. They’re great reads!

Writing a novel

If the average recruiter spends six seconds scanning your resume before deciding if you’re a fit, how long do you think they’ll spend reading your cover letter? Here’s another set of cover letter dos and don’ts: your cover letter shouldn’t be any longer than is necessary to get your points across. And it definitely shouldn’t exceed one page.

Also, keep its readability in mind. Similar to your resume, try to create white space in your cover letter by avoiding dense blocks of text.

Going off brand

Whether you’re searching for a new job or managing your career path, it’s important to pay close attention to how you present your professional brand to others - online, on paper, and face to face. To that end, another cover letter tip is to give it the same look and feel as your resume. If you’re uploading your cover letter as a separate document to an online application, ensure it uses the same header as your resume. Also, make sure the font type, color, and size, the contact information you provide, and even the name you use on both documents remain consistent.


While you can use the cover letter to explain an employment gap or your interest in relocating to a new city, don’t overshare your personal details with a prospective employer. They don’t need to know all about your back surgery or how you had your heart broken and need to find a new city to call home. These extraneous details can’t be used as selling points and will only detract from your qualifications and candidacy as common cover letter mistakes..

Need help crafting the perfect job application? Our TopResume writers can help!

Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!

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Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!