The Worst Mistakes to Make in Your Cover Letter

A previous article I wrote for Resume Edge, The Three Most Important Things in Your Cover Letter, outlines what to do to create a winning cover letter. On the flip side, there are many things you should never do when writing a cover letter.

Five Common Cover Letter Mistakes

1. Using the wrong salutation

Never write, “Dear Sir/Madam.” It’s outdated and shows your lack of research into the company.

Try to find out who the hiring manager is, so you can address the cover letter to that person. If you can’t locate the individual’s name, begin your cover letter with the job title or job number before beginning the first paragraph. For example:

XYZ Company

111 Main Street

Anywhere, USA

Re: Job #67452

Or you might write:

Re: Administrative Assistant position

2. A vague, boring, or run-of-the mill opening sentence/paragraph

The first paragraph has to grab the reader’s attention.

A poor opening: I am writing to express interest in the Senior Program Analyst position listed on your organization’s website.

Doesn’t that statement make you want to yawn? Here’s a better opening:

As a certified Project Management Professional—and XXX firm’s Principal Program Manager of Global Financial Services–I am writing to express interest in YYY’s Senior Program Analyst position.

What makes this opening better? The applicant’s most impressive qualification (certification as a Project Management Professional) and experience as XXX’s Principal Program Manager of Global Financial Services. In the case of this client, XXX was an internationally known firm. If yours is not, then you could write this for example: “for an established mid-size financial services firm specializing in …”

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3. Not customizing the body of the cover letter

You MUST dovetail the cover letter contents (your skills, knowledge, expertise) to the position opening. Hiring managers can spot cookie-cutter cover letters a mile away.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t have a well-written cover letter template. However, you need to tailor it every time you apply for a position. A great strategy is to use keywords/phrases from a company’s position description.

For example:

My combination of project management expertise (which includes IS Project Management Certification) and keen business sense (backed by a Bachelor’s degree in Business) enables me to successfully align technology KPIs with organizational objectives.

The bolded items are cover letter template keywords; words you should edit to match each position description for every job you seek. See how the bolded keywords are reinforced by the stated achievements?

4. Not quantifying your results

If you want to be noticed by hiring managers, you need to quantify, quantify, quantify, proving your achievements are valid, and not just your opinion. Tie your experience to the description of the hiring firm’s ideal candidate to prove you can ‘hit the ground running.’

For example, here’s an underwhelming few sentences from a “before” cover letter:

I have been searching for an opportunity to use my accounting and financial skills while enhancing my auditing experience in the accounting field. I believe your organization to encompass all of these factors.

After digging deeper for details, this was the new statement:

In my current position for XXX, I ensure the accuracy of monthly revenue streams—via accounts financial management, including reconciliation, records, refunds, receipt, and funds-payment for $300,000-plus receivables (300 accounts), and $80,000 payables. I also oversee accounting for XXX’s business development unit’s complex $4 million in annual billings—and I train these account executives regarding accurate recordkeeping.

Notice how specifics are so much better than an opinion of how well you believe you meet the job’s requirements?

5. A weak closing

The old “thank you for your consideration” isn’t enough. When writing a cover letter, create a compelling closing. You should restate your qualifications, mention your resume is enclosed and include a call to action.

For example:

My many other career accomplishments—which closely align with the Senior Program Analyst position—are highlighted in the enclosed résumé.

I look forward to hearing from you, once you have reviewed my qualifications. Additionally, I will contact your office next week to discuss arranging an interview.


TIP: Carefully proof your cover letter—multiple times. The worst mistake to make when writing a cover letter is carelessness. Typos, inconsistent spacing before/after periods, capitalization issues, spelling errors…any one of these will send your cover letter and resume into the recycling bin.