A cover letter is an important part of your job application. In some cases, employers require a cover letter to be submitted with your resume. In others, a cover letter is optional or not required.
A cover letter can boost your application for a job. It can also cost you an interview if it doesn't include the right information or if it's sloppy or badly written. A Career Builder survey reports that typos or grammatical errors are an instant deal breaker for 77% of hiring managers.
It’s always a good idea to provide a cover letter if you have the option. Your cover letter can make the difference between getting selected for an interview—or not. It gives you a chance to sell your qualifications to the hiring manager, and shows them why you are a strong candidate for the job.
A well-written cover letter gives you the opportunity to frame your background so that employers draw the right conclusions about your qualifications as they review your resume.
The Purpose of a Cover Letter
In your cover letter, it’s important to convey how your character, interests, motivations, knowledge, skills, and experiences equip you to excel in the job. This is your opportunity to show the employer why you’re an excellent candidate for the position and should be considered.
Here are tips for matching your qualifications to the job, so that you can make a match between your credentials and the employer's job requirements.
What Not to Include in a Cover Letter
There is such a thing as too much information when it comes to cover letter writing. Your cover letter should be short, concise, and focused on what you can offer the employer.
You don’t need to share non-relevant information, personal information, or anything else that doesn’t connect you with the position for which you’re applying.
Your letter should avoid making the wrong impression about your candidacy. Furthermore, it shouldn’t provide useless information that makes it more difficult for the recruiter to focus on your most compelling qualifications.
15 Things You Shouldn't Include
1. Any Spelling or Grammar Errors
Your cover letter is viewed as a sample of your ability as a writer and evidence of your attention to detail. Even a minor typo or error can knock you out of contention for the job. Review these proofreading tips to make sure your letters are perfect.
Even better, if you can get someone else to review it for you then do that too. It can be hard to catch our own mistakes.
2. The Wrong Company Name or the Wrong Name of the Contact Person
Double-check to be sure that you've addressed your cover letter to the correct person at the right organization. If you get it wrong, it is a tip-off that you are mass producing your documents and may lack attention to detail.
Nobody likes it when they are called by the wrong name, and that's especially true when you're reading letters from someone who wants you to hire them.
3. Anything That Isn't True
It shouldn't need to be said, but it's important to keep your cover letter as honest as your resume. A ResumeLab survey reports that 93% of respondents know someone who has lied on their resume.
Facts can be checked, and lies are grounds for rescinding offers and dismissing employees. The ResumeLab survey notes that 65% of the people who were caught lying were either fired or not hired.
I’ve heard from job seekers who were in a panic because they stretched the truth or outright lied in their cover letter or resume and didn’t know how to rectify it. You don’t want to be one of those people. Make sure your cover letter accurately reflects your qualifications for the job.
Don't embellish your work history or qualifications. Employers can and do check with references and previous employers.
4. Paragraphs That Are Too Long
Employers will skip over your cover letter and move right to your resume if it is too difficult to read.
- Each paragraph of your letter should include 5 - 6 lines of text with no more than three sentences in each.
- Include plenty of white space at the top and bottom of your letter and in between paragraphs.
5. Your Salary Requirements or Expectations
Don't include salary requirements or expectations unless directed to do so by the employer. It’s important to demonstrate to the employer your interest in the job itself and not make it seem like money is your primary motivation.
It’s always wise to let the employer mention salary first, if possible. Here’s when and how to mention salary to a prospective employer.
6. Negative Comments About a Current or Past Employer
Avoid including any negative comments about your current or previous employer as part of why you are looking for work. Employers tend to view such comments as an indication of possible attitude or performance problems.
Keep your letter positive and focused on why you're the right person for the job.
7. Information Not Related to the Job
Don’t include any text that is not directly related to your assets for the position or why it appeals to you. Empty language can distract the employer from your core messages. It's better to write a short letter than one filled with irrelevant information.
Your letter should focus on why you're the best-qualified person for the job, and what you have to offer the employer.
8. Personal Information
The employer doesn't need to know you want this job because of personal reasons. Keep your focus on the professional reasons you'd love to be hired, and keep the personal ones to yourself.
Your goal is to sell yourself to the hiring manager as a quality candidate, not to get someone to consider you because you would really love the employee discount or the hours, for example.
9. Any Portrayal of the Position as a Stepping Stone
Most employers will be looking primarily for someone who is motivated to do the job that they are advertising for a reasonable length of time. Mentioning future advancement can lead them to believe you would not be satisfied doing that job for long.
The exception, of course, would be if the employer has referenced the issue or if the position is part of a training program.
10. What You Want
Your cover letter isn't about what you want; It's about what you have to offer. Don’t mention what you want to get out of the job or the company. The precious space in your cover letter should focus on what you have to offer the employer. Here’s what to include in the body section of your cover letter.
11. What You Don't Want
Don't mention anything you don't like about the job, the schedule, the salary, or anything else. Save your thoughts for when you're offered a job and in a position to negotiate. There are many applicants for most jobs, and the ones who get the interviews will be the candidates who don't have a list of requirements.
12. Qualifications You Don’t Have
Addressing what might be missing in your candidacy with statements like "Despite my lack of sales experience... " is not a good idea. Don't draw attention to your limitations as a candidate. Keep the focus on your credentials and how they will enable you to get the job done.
13. Explanations for Leaving Past Jobs That Sound Like Excuses
Any excuses may needlessly direct attention to less-positive chapters in your work history. Pointing out that you were recruited for a better job is fine, but there's no need to mention that you were fired or had difficulties in previous positions. Keep your job application materials positive and focused on the future.
14. Excessive Modesty or Overly Flattering Language
You need to convey positives in your letter but do so in a matter-of-fact way. Speak about accomplishments and results, but avoid using adjectives to describe yourself that may suggest you are arrogant or conceited.
15. An Overwhelming Amount of Interest in the Job
Promote your credentials, but don't oversell yourself. Excessive interest can hint of desperation or undercut your leverage for salary negotiation. You’re pitching your candidacy, not begging for an interview. Showing desperation is a surefire way to turn off the hiring manager.
What to Include in a Cover Letter
Keep in mind that your cover letter has one goal: to get you a job interview.
Take time to match your qualifications carefully to the job requirements and to write a personalized cover letter that shows the hiring manager, at a glance, why you're a terrific candidate.