10 Common Cover Letter Mistakes

cover letter mistakesA strong cover letter can help your resume get noticed. Avoid these traps!

Your cover letter and resume are your chance to make a first impression on a hiring manager. The cover letter in particular is a great opportunity for you to highlight your strengths and—most importantly—explain how your skills can benefit the company. A good cover letter can lead the way to a follow-up call or even the opportunity for an interview. Here are some common cover letter mistakes that you want to avoid.

Mistake #1. Not customizing your cover letter

It is very important to customize your cover letter for each job application you submit. You will want to familiarize yourself with the job ad, so that you can emphasize how your qualities are a good match for the job. Use some of the same words and terminology that are used in the job ad to show how you can help the organization reach its goals. Using the same key terms can also benefit you if these terms are being used as keywords in a searchable database.

Mistake #2. Poor opening paragraph

Writing the first sentence can be the hardest part. Avoid starting with “My name is …” Avoid overused tired-sounding openings like “Enclosed please find my resume.” Instead, start right out with why you are writing, and follow with a concise summary of the reasons you are qualified for the position.

Mistake #3. Rehashing your resume

A cover letter should not just be a re-telling of your resume in paragraph form. You can pick one or two key experiences that qualify you for the job, but also be sure to talk about your top qualities that make you right for the job.

Mistake #4. Focusing on yourself instead of the potential employer

Some people focus only on their own strengths in their cover letter. Instead, be sure to focus on how you can help the organization meet its goals—not on how this job can help you meet your own personal goals. You can talk about your experiences, but do it in the context of how it can help the company.

Mistake #5. Not backing up your statements

While it is important to focus on your strong qualities in your cover letter, make sure you offer evidence to back up your claims. For instance, if you say you are an efficient team member, a good communicator, or a careful technician, be sure to support it with an example or accomplishment that demonstrates this to be true.

Mistake #6. Too long or too short

A cover letter that is just a few sentences is too short. It conveys that you have not put much effort into convincing the hiring manager that you are right for the job. A cover letter that extends beyond one page is too long; it is more than most hiring managers will want to read. Generally, two paragraphs are a good amount for an emailed cover letter, while three to four paragraphs are a good length for a paper or PDF cover letter.

Mistake #7. Telling too much

Over-explaining a career move, delving too deeply into your education or experience, or sharing irrelevant personal information are all pitfalls to avoid. Keep your cover letter focused on your professional qualities and how they can benefit the organization to which you are applying.

Mistake #8. Weak closing paragraph

The main point of your cover letter is to try to secure an interview. Instead of just saying “Please contact me for further information,” state in your final paragraph that you would like to meet for an interview. Indicate a time period within which you will call the employer to follow up. Then mark your calendar and remember to follow up!

Mistake #9. Not using standard letter format

Even though most communications are done electronically, it’s still important for your cover letter to look like a formal letter. If you are going to be attaching or uploading your letter, be sure to include the date, recipient address, formal greeting, closing, signature, and your return address (including all contact information) on your letter. If you are emailing your cover letter, be sure to including the formal greeting, closing, and your full contact information.

Mistake #10. Not naming the hiring manager

It is not always possible to find the name of the hiring manager. But if you try, it will show the employer that you are serious about the job. Try placing  a call to the organization to find out to whom you should address the letter. If there is no way of finding the person’s name, you can write “To the hiring manager for the _________ position.”

Bonus tip:

Grammatical or spelling mistakes

Make sure to double-check your letter for grammatical or spelling mistakes. It’s a good idea to ask a friend or mentor to read over your letter too. Making spelling or grammatical mistakes suggests that you were not careful in preparing your letter.


This article was provided by the Harris School of Business. Located at eight campuses in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Connecticut, the Harris School offers career training in career fields such as medical assistant, dental assistant, massage therapist, and health claims specialist.