Seven common cover letter mistakes and how to avoid them

Looking for a new job? Here are seven common cover letter mistakes and how you can avoid them.

Cover letters are an important part of most job applications so make sure you get it right.  

You need to sell yourself in a succinct manner and grab the reader’s attention so they want to look at your CV. So what should you include and what should you avoid when writing your letter?

Laura Harmsworth from Caversham CV highlights seven common cover letter mistakes you REALLY want to avoid!

1) Using the same cover letter for every job application

It’s vital that you don’t churn out the same letter for each role you apply for, just changing the company name and job title. If you do, it will be glaringly evident, and likely to put off a recruiter or employer from reading any further.

Instead of mindlessly sending out the same, generic letter or email, you need to spend time researching the company – what they do, competitors, recent news, values, future plans etc.  Then demonstrate a passion for working for them.

Match your skills and experience to those being sought by the company. To do this, go through the job description/person specification and highlight what they are looking for. 

Choose three key skills for your letter, illustrating how you match them in terms of your skills and experience.  Don’t simply copy and paste sections from your CV but write in a succinct manner – bullet points work well for this section of the letter. 

The point of the cover letter is to entice the recruiter to read on and look at your CV.  They want someone who is genuinely interested in the company.

2) Writing an overly long (or too brief) letter

Your cover letter needs to hit the perfect length – too brief and it shows a lack of interest or effort, and too long and it probably won’t get read. So try to keep your letter to between half a page and a page.  

Spend time on presentation and format. You can create a document similar to personalised stationery, with your name and address as a header, and phone and email details as a footer. Ensure the letter is nicely spaced and use a font such as Arial, Times New Roman or Calibri – matched to what you have used for your CV.

Include the date, contact name and address of where you are applying. If the name of the recruiter is not on the job ad or your letter is speculative, really try to find out the name of the appropriate person to send your letter and CV to.  

Many recruiters will not carry on reading if the letter is addressed to Dear Sir/Madam or To Whom it may concern. This may sound harsh, but it is a competitive world out there! If you really cannot find the name, remember to end your letter with Yours faithfully rather than Yours sincerely. If you do have a name, spell it correctly.

3) Writing about what you are going to get out of the job

Remember your application is not about what you want, but how you can to solve a problem for the employer. 

So focus on the key skills and experience you have that they are looking for, ensuring you refer back to the job ad or description and person specification. Back these up with figures/examples (but not the same ones you’ve included on your CV) and be succinct.

4)  Being informal

This is particularly an issue when writing a cover email rather than a letter.  Either is acceptable and if not stated in the job advert, it is your choice. You can copy your letter into the body of an email and attach your CV, or write a short email and attach your letter and CV (remember to attach the files!).

Whichever option you choose, keep it professional. Don’t start out with “Hi”, use text speak or abbreviations, or add emojis 😊.  

If you email a recruiter or employer, make your email is appropriate (not something like, professional and not your current work address. You could set up an email purely for your job search.

Always check out the company prior to sending your CV with personal details on – keep ID fraud in mind.

5) Being boring

A cover letter gives you more freedom to show more of your personality than a CV. Making your letter stand out from the crowd is a good thing, but don’t go over the top.

6) Being desperate

Don’t be overly friendly. Keep it professional and ensure you sound enthusiastic, without begging for a role. For example, “I really need this role because…”

You can sound enthusiastic without going overboard. For example, “I am a big fan of xxx company, having seen your success in introducing xxx product into the market.”

7) Errors

Last on the list, but very important – avoid any spelling and grammatical errors.

Don’t rely on spellcheck. Proofread, proofread again after a night’s sleep, ask a few people to read through your CV, then read it again. 

You don’t want to end up saying you are seeking a party-time role or are currently a senior manger do you?

Ready to write your cover letter?

Now you can identify some of the typical errors and know how to avoid them.  

Spending time on your letter is as important as the time you spend writing your CV.  Remember, a well written letter will ensure you stand out from the crowd and it will open doors for you.

Read more CV and cover letter advice

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Laura Harmsworth is an experienced HR professional with over six years’ experience in writing CVs that open doors for people. Find out more about her services at Caversham CV Writing

Photo by Trent Szmolnik