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9 common cover letter mistakes

1. Only writing about how the job will benefit you

Writing about your plans and what this job will do for you instead of why your educational background, skills, experience and personal qualities will bring value to the company – write with the reader in mind. The exception is internships where everyone understands the object is to gain experience.

2. Not customising your application

Sending the same CV and cover letter for all your job applications gives the impression that you haven't given much thought to your application. Make sure you show in your application that you have read up about the company/organisation you are applying to.

3. Failing to understand the company, their industry and the requirements of the position

You can’t target your letter to their needs if you don’t know what those needs are. Make sure you read the company's website carefully and incorporate details to show you did your homework.

4. Using vague claims and tired language

"I have excellent interpersonal skills"

"I’m detail oriented"

Don’t tell them - show them through specific, relevant examples.

5. Including unnecessary phrases

"As you can see from my CV, ..."

Show you understand that business writing is brief and to the point. Edit, edit and edit some more to make every word count.


6. Underselling or overselling your skills

‘I’ve never worked in advertising, but ...’

They don’t want to know what you haven’t done - tell them what you have done and how it applies to this job.

‘With my combination of skills and experience, I am the ideal candidate for the job.’

Guess what? They are wading through 476 cover letters that make the same claim. Besides, they get to decide who is the ideal candidate. Employers place high value on self-confidence, so show them why you are confident that you would be a valid contribution to the company.

7. Including a photo (US and UK applications) or other personal information

Companies must not appear to discriminate based on age, gender, ethnicity or race, marital status, health issues, religion etc. so not having your personal information helps them stay in compliance with employment laws. For legal, discrimination reasons, they can’t keep your documents or consider you. What they do need to know is your nationality and your visa status. Can you work or live in their country?

8. Failing to proofread

Employers may be tolerant of minor grammatical errors from a non-native speaker because they know your English will improve quickly once you are working in an English-speaking company. BUT, they will eliminate you for typographical and spelling errors that a combination of spell checking and careful proofreading would have caught. They are looking for reasons to eliminate applicants to reduce the number of candidates to a manageable size. Being careless makes you an easy target!

9. Sending off your application on the day of writing

Print out your cover letter and set it aside for at least one day. Then proofread the printed copy. Waiting a short time before proofreading, as well as working from the printed copy, will allow you to catch easily overlooked mistakes that even spellcheck won’t find. Ask a native speaker to read your letter and give you feedback.