10 Cover Letter Mistakes You Should Definitely Avoid Making

Many job seekers don’t bother to include a cover letter along with their CV when they apply for a job, in the belief that the cover letter isn’t usually read by the recruiter and that it’s simply a cover page.

This can be true in some cases, but a cover letter can also play a decisive role in determining who gets hired for a position. Recruiters don’t all follow the same process when screening potential candidates.

Knowing this, why risk being passed over for consideration just because you didn’t take the time to write a cover letter?

The cover letter also gives you a chance to touch on aspects of your profile that your CV can’t cover, including the reasons you’re interested in a particular position, the thread that connects disparate elements of your career, or the values you hold.

In short, the cover letter provides a recruiter with an overall sense of your candidacy.

Having helped job seekers enter the market for more than 20 years, I can confirm that the vast majority of cover letters include at least one of the following mistakes. Don’t do any of these!

1- Treating the cover letter as a simple formality

It’s easy to take a sample cover letter found online and tweak the information to make it your own without expending any effort to personalize the document. However, by doing that, you are wasting an opportunity to distinguish yourself using an original approach that could make you stand out.

2- Simply repeating the information found on your CV

When you’re lacking inspiration, it can be tempting to simply repeat the information from your CV in your cover letter, as if the letter should detail the highlights of your CV. Unfortunately, this will only give a recruiter a sense of déjà-vu as they read one document, then the other; in the end they will get the impression that you have very little to say. Of course, it’s normal that elements of your CV will find their way into your cover letter, but don’t repeat yourself word-for-word and make an effort to present the information in a new and interesting way.

3- Too generic

A generic cover letter is one that contains information that, in a nutshell, could be found in any cover letter written by anyone applying to any job.

As in, I want to find a stimulating position that aligns with my skills, in a dynamic organization like yours.

This phrase has no value to a recruiter because it doesn’t teach them anything about you. Many cover letters include language that serves no purpose.

4- Too formal

It’s important to be polite in your cover letter, but if you go too far with grand displays of formality, you risk coming across as distant and joyless.

Please accept my most sincere regards…

This phrase feels like it was plucked out of a proclamation made to a king in the Middle Ages.

5- Too long

Wherever possible, try to avoid writing a cover letter that is more than one page long. Also avoid writing long paragraphs that might discourage a reader: your cover letter should be inviting to read and display a strong element of synthesis.

6- Too humble

Of course, you don’t want to do any bragging in your cover letter. But if you focus too much on expressing humility, a recruiter might perceive that you suffer from a lack of self-confidence.

I hope that I will receive a response from you…

Statements like that give the impression that you would consider a recruiter calling you back to be a miracle. Not very persuasive!

7- No structure

Your cover letter needs to follow a logical structure of ideas and flow like a story you are telling. Try to avoid “bouncing around” in your story: briefly talking about your interpersonal skills, your interest in the position, your education and training, and then back to your social skills, could make your story hard to follow. Group related elements of your story together, rather than jumbling disparate elements with one another.

8- No mention of the reasons you’re interested in the job

A cover letter provides an opportunity to touch on aspects of your candidacy that your CV can’t really address. At this stage of evaluation, the employer doesn’t only want to know if you have the skills required for the position: they also want to know why you’re attracted to the job and why working for their company at this moment in your career would make sense to you. I’ve seen many cover letters that neglect to address these aspects.

9- Making no reference to the employer, or the job

When you write a letter to a friend, you are speaking to that friend specifically. They need to feel that you are speaking to them directly and that they are important to you. It’s the same principle with a cover letter. The more your letter speaks to specific elements of your application – including the employer and the position – the more your efforts will be recognized and appreciated. That being said, you should avoid flattering the employer with general compliments.

I would be honored to work for a company as wonderful as yours…

10- Trying to be too original

Unfortunately, the majority of cover letters are very similar. But in an effort to stand out from the pack, some candidates take their cover letter to the opposite extreme by using humor, for example. This can be risky at this stage because the tone might be misinterpreted. If you try to be creative just to show that you are creative, it comes off as distracting and takes the reader’s attention away from your real message – which is that you are the ideal candidate for the position.

In conclusion

The purpose of a cover letter is to make you look great while presenting your candidacy in a clear, structured and personalized way. It needs to tell the story of who you are and identify your strengths, explain what you’re looking for in your career, detail what interests you in the position you’ve applied for and, if possible, inspire sympathy for you.

To help along the process of writing your cover letter, begin by making a “skeleton” of your letter with only the key ideas you want to put across, before writing sentences. Insert a specific example every time you describe one of your strengths. It will help you craft a focused and persuasive story.

Remember to always take the time to write a cover letter when applying for a position that you’re really interested in – it’s an investment that’s well worth the time!

By: Mathieu Guénette, Guidance Counsellor at Les Chercheurs de sens

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Mathieu Guénette

Mathieu Guénette is a self-employed Guidance Counsellor with over 20 years of experience, as well as an author and a lecturer. He has worked with a diverse clientele (teenagers, adults, managers, job hunters). In 2017, he has simultaneously obtained the Ordre des conseillers et conseillères d'orientation du Québec’s Professional Award and the Ordre des conseillers en ressources humaines agréés’ HR Book of the Year Award for his work Le candidat visceral. He provides services in Montreal, Lanaudière and remotely. His website is full of handy resources for you: Les chercheurs de sens.

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