Five things you need to stop doing on your cover letter

Never underestimate the power of a cover letter…

Although often overlooked, cover letters can be one of the main deciding factors when it comes to helping your application stand out. But what should (and shouldn’t) you include?

To point you in the right direction, here are five of the most common cover letter mistakes that could be costing you the job:


  1. Using the same cover letter for every single job

If you’re guilty of sending identical cover letters for every single role, stop. It may save you time, but it won’t get you the job.

A stock cover letter equals generic phrases and offers no specificity about the company, industry, or role you’re applying for. You might also be including a wealth of information that isn’t even relevant to the job, only indicating a lack of genuine interest, not to mention laziness, to most hiring managers.

Instead, always refer to the job by its title and description, and explain how your skills could benefit the specific company (not just the industry as a whole).

After all, the employer wants to know how you could be an asset to them personally, and aren’t likely to be impressed by anyone who assume all roles and companies in an entire industry are on the same level.

Do say: ‘I’ve been following *correct company name* for many years now, and your success in X and Y makes you stand out from your competition in the X sector. I believe my skills in Y from *specific projects* could help your company thrive further in its need for a *description of job title*.’

Don’t say: ‘I think I’d be a great fit for this position at *wrong company name*, and am keen to enter this thriving industry.’


  1. Being overly personal

Maybe you’ve been unlucky in love recently. Maybe you’re struggling with money. Or maybe your ‘lucky interview socks’ got a hole in them, inevitably causing your most recent job interview rejection. Life is tough sometimes, we get it.

But that doesn’t mean this information is cover letter friendly. It’s never OK to talk about your personal life, or share irrelevant details on a professional document, and it definitely won’t improve your employability. Other personal topics such as talking about the reasons for leaving your current job, overly detailed justifications for career breaks, or badmouthing your boss also fall firmly under the ‘do not mention’ category.

So, keep it to the point, and focus on the job you’re applying for.

After all, nobody’s going to fall for the ‘pity vote’. They’re recruiters, not counsellors.

Do say: ‘During my seven years of experience in *specific field*, I have gained skills in X, Y, and Z. A recent example of this included *recent success in achievement, project, or task*, and I strongly believe that they could be utilised to help *company name* succeed in their mission of *company mission statement*.’

Don’t say: ‘I left my last role on bad terms. My boss always had it in for me, if I’m honest.’


  1. Making it all about you

Always remember that your application isn’t based on what you want. It’s all about what the employer wants.

Sure, you should talk about your achievements, skills, and experience – but only if they relate directly back to the vacancy you’re applying for.

Avoid detailing your hopes and dreams, and don’t explain what you’d personally get out of the job. Because a cover letter isn’t about being able to fulfil your objectives, it’s about proving to a recruiter that you have what it takes to fulfil theirs.

Place emphasis on what they’d get out of employing you, whilst explaining how your specific skills could help them, and you’ll be far more likely to impress.

Do say: ‘My enthusiasm and dedication to *field name* has resulted in me acquiring of a range of different skills in X and Y, proven most recently by X. This role requires a wealth of knowledge on Z, and my *relevant quantifiable experience* directly proves my in depth understanding and expertise in this particular area.’  

Don’t say:  ‘I’ve always been interested in entering the *field name*, and I’d like to gain further experience and build on my current skills. It would also be a great opportunity for me to do what I love.’


  1. Drawing attention to your weaknesses

A recruiter isn’t interested in what you can’t do – they want to know what you can do.

If you’re lacking in experience in certain areas but have strengths in others, then just focus on your strong points. Negativity has no place in a cover letter, so if it doesn’t prove why you should get the job, it’s probably not worth including.

Additionally, confidence is key when it comes to job hunting, and a recruiter is unlikely to be blown away by anyone who doubts their suitability for the role. You’ll just be drawing attention to your application for all the wrong reasons.

Remember: if you don’t think you have the right skills for the job, it’s unlikely the hiring manager will.

Do say: ‘My experience in *specific field* has given me the transferrable skills in X and Y…’

Don’t say: ‘Although I don’t have any experience in *specific field*…’


  1. Being too keen

Enthusiasm is good. Desperation is not.

Your application alone tells the recruiter you’re interested, so there’s no need to go overboard with unwarranted eagerness in your cover letter. Begging for the job isn’t going to add anything to your selling potential, and if you appear overeager, the recruiter will just assume you’re not actually that high in demand.

Instead, be enthusiastic about the position you’re applying for, and why you think their organisation would be a great company to work for. But try and keep all over-the-top adjectives and hyperbole to a minimum.

Because there’s a fine line between showing a genuine interest and trying too hard…

Do say: ‘Your recent successes in X and Y attracted me to your company, and as the market leader in Z, *company name* stood out to me…’

Don’t say: ‘This is my absolute dream job. I want it more than anyone else, and I know for a fact that I’m the best person for the role.’


Honourable mentions: using clichéd phrases, failing to proofread, underselling or overselling yourself, being arrogant, lying, talking about salary expectations, including a headshot.


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