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4 Cover Letter Mistakes to Avoid — Especially If You Want to Get the Job

Updated October 25, 2016
by Susan Shain
Senior Writer
Cover letter mistakes

Cover letters are the bane of any job seeker’s existence.

For them to be good — good enough to maybe hopefully land you an interview — they need to be really good. And customized. (Groan.)

You probably already knew that, but you might not know what sets excellent cover letters apart from the rest. But Sara McCord does.

During her career, she’s read hundreds of cover letters — and says she can determine if one is good or bad in a mere three minutes.

Based on her advice in The Muse, here are four fatal cover letter flaws:

1. Using a Totally Lame Greeting

Truth time: Have you ever started a cover letter with “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern”?

“When a hiring manager sees any one of these things,” McCord writes, “she reads it as, ‘I didn’t take my time with this, and I don’t really care about working here.’”

And it probably gets your application tossed in the recycling bin.

No word on whether, “Dear hiring manager” is also a no-go (which I’ve definitely used before), but it seems like looking up the hiring manager’s name is the best bet.

2. Reeking of Desperation

Who knew? Just like with dating, sounding too desperate can turn hiring managers off.

“You don’t need to thank the hiring manager so incredibly much for reading your application — that’s his job,” McCord writes.

“If you align considering your application with the biggest favor ever, you’ll make the other person think it’s because you’re desperate.”

Note to self: Don’t gush.  

3. Opening With a Sucky/Boring Sentence

I don’t know why I’ve never thought of this before, but the first line of your cover letter is like the lede of a story; you want to draw your reader in.

And saying “I’m writing to apply for XYZ job” just ain’t gonna do the trick.

“When a hiring manager sees that, she won’t think, ‘How thoughtful of the applicant to remind me what I’m reading!’” McCord quips. “Her reaction will be much closer to, ‘boring,’ ‘meh,’ or even ‘next!’”

Here are some examples of opening lines that will definitely grab their attention.

4. Airing Your Laundry — Even if It’s Clean

Your cover letter isn’t a place to simply list your skills and experience (that’s what your resume’s for).

A cover letter should highlight your personality, as well as how your background jives with the job.

“If you write a laundry list, it’ll blend into every other submission formatted the same way,” McCord explains. “Sure, you might still include lists of skills, but break those up with anecdotes or splashes of personality.”

Check out her full post for some great examples.

Your Turn: Did any of these cover letter mistakes surprise you?

Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.

by Susan Shain
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

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