What Not to Write in a Cover Letter

by Sharon Penn ; Updated July 27, 2017
Make your cover letter present your achievements in a favorable light.

A cover letter accompanies your resume when you apply for a job. The cover letter should follow a business letter format and highlight major accomplishments that relate to the position for which you are applying. But a cover letter can do more harm than good if you include inappropriate elements.

Words in an Incorrect Format

We all remember the saying “neatness counts.” When it comes to cover letters, everything counts -- from the format to grammatical errors and even your choice of font style and size. Write a business letter with your contact information on top and the name, title and address of the hiring manager underneath. The date should be spelled out, and the salutation should be placed on a separate line. Research the name of the hiring manager on the company website so you can address your cover letter to the appropriate person. Write the letter with an introductory paragraph, a body and a closing paragraph. Make absolutely certain you have no spelling or grammatical errors and that your punctuation and capitalization are impeccable.

"One-Size-Fits-All" Copy

Do not write the same copy for every cover letter. Individualize your cover letter to address the specific concerns of the company. Go to its website to learn about the company, and read the job posting carefully. Cover letters that start off something like, “I read your job description with interest because my qualifications match your requirements” are too generic and not specific enough. Use words in the job posting to explain why your skills and accomplishments make you the best candidate for the job.

A Summary of Your Resume

Your cover letter accompanies your resume, which provides a detailed accounting of your career path to date. The purpose of the cover letter is not to produce a long-winded rewording of your resume. Rather, it must showcase a major achievement that demonstrates the skills and results you will bring to the new position. This is the place to capture the interest of the hiring manager and sell yourself with powerful language. Use an attention-grabbing opening paragraph, body paragraphs that highlight your skills and achievements, and a high-impact close that calls for action on the part of the hiring manager or promises action on your part, like calling or emailing the following week.

Unsupported Claims

A general cover letter that states that you have excellent communication skills, that you have good computer skills or that you are an expert salesperson will look like it is filled with empty boasts if you do not back up your claims with details. Explain what you accomplished through bringing people together to discuss an issue, describe the computer programs you have used and provide statistics like percentage of increase and additional profit garnered to prove your claims.

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About the Author

Sharon Penn is a writer based in South Florida. A professional writer since 1981, she has created numerous materials for a Princeton advertising agency. Her articles have appeared in "Golf Journal" and on industry blogs. Penn has traveled extensively, is an avid golfer and is eager to share her interests with her readers. She holds a Master of Science in Education.

Photo Credits

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