5 Cover Letter Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

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Ah, cover letters. Out of all of the steps in applying for a job, I think that cover letters are the one item that trips up most people. In fact, there are some people who will tell you that cover letters aren't important and you shouldn't even bother sending them. Their reasoning is that since most employers use an applicant tracking system, there is no one actually reading your cover letter and it's a waste of time. Personally, I think that since it only takes a few minutes to write a great cover letter, you aren't wasting much if it isn't read. However, if there is a real person looking at them, a great cover letter can do a lot to make you stand out.


So, why is there so much confusion about cover letters? I think that the problem is that there aren't many clear cut rules, and most of us make mistakes with cover letters that cause them to hurt us more than they help us. Here are 5 of the most common cover letter mistakes and how to avoid making them:

Attaching the cover letter to an email: When you email your resume and cover letter, don't send the cover letter as an attachment. Instead, the cover letter should be in the body of the email and your resume should be the attachment. If you're concerned that your cover letter will be overlooked if it isn't attached, go ahead an attach it as a text file in addition to having it in the body of your email. After all, you don't want to send a blank email with just a resume and cover letter attached. By putting your greeting and the reason that you're the right fit for the job in the email, they'll want to view the attachment.


Giving more information that necessary: You don't have to include your life story in your cover letter. In fact, you don't want to focus on you in the letter. Instead, read the job ad several times and write down all of the required skills and experience. In your cover letter, you should mention these requirements and how you meet them. This makes it simple for the hiring manager to see that you are a qualified applicant right off the bat.

Not following instructions: It's important to read the job ad several times and follow their instructions. Years ago, I worked for a company that requested applicants to follow a fairly simple process for submitting their resumes. Any resumes they received through other channels were promptly tossed out, even if they were from very qualified applicants. When I asked my boss about his reasoning, he told me that if someone can't follow simple instructions when a good job was on the line, how could he expect them to follow instructions when the stakes are lower? It might sound mean, but he said that the process made it easier to find the right employee because it lowered the number of resumes from people who weren't actually interested in the job. So, be sure to follow the directions in the ad when submitting your resume and cover letter.

Not mentioning the job title you want: In your cover letter, you should reference the job you are applying for. It's easy to work this in to your reasons why you're the best person for the job. If you don't include the actual job title, the hiring manager may not be sure which job you're applying for. Typically, they aren't going to waste time trying to determine where your skill could be used, and instead, they'll just throw your resume out.

Using the same cover letter for every job: This one is really important. A form cover letter than you use for every job doesn't do much to impress a potential employer. In fact, it's typically something that really annoys hiring manager. Although you can use the same format and most of the same information for every cover letter, your cover letter should make it clear that you are interested in their job, not just any job.

In many cases, your cover letter is the first thing a potential employer will see. If done correctly, it can make them want to find out more about you and help you stand out from the rest of the applicants.

Do you send a cover letter with every resume? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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  • E.J. C.
    E.J. C.

    I myself appreciate the help offered on this and other related employment assisting sites. Keep dishing out the help. God Bless.

  • E.J. C.
    E.J. C.

    I have to say this one thing; looking for a full time, field related job, is in itself, is kind of "A full Time Job" The perfect resume, the perfect cover letter, and not to forget, besides the daunting job search, "The Job Interview" wow !

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Soozy G. Miller, CPRW thanks ever so much for your comment. It's always nice to hear from those who are on the other end of this process. So you are saying not to include the cover letter as the "text" in your email when applying? We should attach both the cover letter and the resume to the email and then write up a quick blurb in an email if needed? It is true that cover letters are poorly written. Most of the job seekers freak out when they realize that they may have to actually write sentences and paragraphs. They figure that their resume is enough. So let me ask, if the posting does not indicate whether or not you should send a cover letter, what is your recommendation? Should we send it anyhow or just send the resume? This is a question that gets asked a LOT. Thanks again for stopping by.


    Hi, I'm a certified master resume writer and a hiring consultant and I actually disagree with a few points here. First, putting the text of the cover letter is not necessarily the better option because 1) cover letters can be searchable just like resumes and 2) you can submit the cover letter in pdf format like the resume to better ensure it does not get corrupted 3) cover letter text in the body of the email is not appropriate for higher level candidates. Second, I don't believe that following directions for submission should be a filter. I admire candidates that find alternative routes to resume submission; it makes them look persistent and like problem solvers--the qualifiers should be the quality of the resume and the cover letter with typos, grammatical errors, etc. Third, most cover letters are badly written and it is much easier to just look at the resume to see quickly if the candidate is qualified or not. Thanks.

  • Hussen F.
    Hussen F.

    Excellent 5 points that I need to improve and rectify each time thanks!

  • Teddy F
    Teddy F
    Point number 3 rings very true. In recruiting graduate interns and post doc fellows, I post a supplemental application process that must be followed in addition to the standard resume submission and online application. One of the main reasons is that if someone cannot follow directions at a simple application procedure, or balks at having to do extra "work" to apply for the position, that is a very telling sign about their level of true interest in the highly competitive position.  You would be surprised how much is revealed in simply completing the full application procedure.
  • Felicia P
    Felicia P
    I normally send a cover letter with every resume. The one thing I do wrong is, I tend to use the same format of cover letter but change some of the providing information. Not good according to your suggestions. Thanks helpful!
  • Melissa Kennedy
    Melissa Kennedy
    @Robert - Customizing cover letters is extra work. What works best for me is to write two or three different cover letters and simply add in information about the specific job or company rather than starting from scratch each time.@Patricia - Don't worry, we all make things harder than they need to be sometimes. My intention in writing the article was to help you see that it's actual pretty easy. We all just stress out and freeze up and make it way harder than it needs to be.@Linda - Thanks for the sweet comment!
  • Robert S
    Robert S
    I make it a point to include a cover letter with every resume I sent for ads on job boards, such as CareerBuilder. The task of writing the cover letter and making it unique is however laborious when doing it every day. In my case, proofing errors went out the gate even after proofreading and using spell checker. Is it a sign of fatigue? What can I do about it? It is embarrassing.
  • Patricia M
    Patricia M
    I've been drawing a blank on how to start a cover letter and reading this I found that either just wasn't thinking or I was simply making it too hard.  There's a job that virtually mirrors my resume.  I just need to explain this in my cover letter.
  • Linda C
    Linda C
    Thank-You I never thought about how boring the same cover letter could become. I like the idea of putting the resume as an attachment and the cover letter as the body of the e-mail.
  • Melissa Kennedy
    Melissa Kennedy
    Thanks so much for the comments. There's no harm in putting the entire cover letter in the body of the email and many times, it really does make a difference. Good Luck!
  • Pamela R
    Pamela R
  • Brian C
    Brian C
    Great advice.  I really like the idea of putting your cover letter in the body of the e-mail.  I have in the past put some of the cover letters in the body, to keep it short, but putting the whole cover letter in the body of the e-mail and only attaching a resume really is the modern day equivalence of a cover letter.

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