Most job seekers’ cover letters are merely an introduction. An accurate overview of experience highlights and a way to request to be moved forward based on your qualifications.
And then there are the other kinds of cover letters. The ones chock full of TMI, or that generally just miss the mark.
I got to thinking about this while shuffling through cover letters (I’ve read through a lot of cover letters in my various HR jobs over the years), and decided to compile a list of the most bizarre blunders I’ve come across. I hope you find them helpful — or at the very least, entertaining.
14 Common Cover Letter Mistakes to Avoid
- Trying to be a storyteller
- Listing less-than-useful skills
- Writing your letter like it’s a text message
- Excess length
- Promising something you might not be able to fulfill
- Misfiring with jokes that are actually insulting
- Speaking a little too highly of yourself
- Alluding to uncomfortable topics
- Overplaying your lesser strengths
- Choosing the wrong job benefits to highlight
- Emphasizing your non-workplace skills and interests
- Using hyperbole
- Forgetting that you’re writing to a hiring manager
14 Common Cover Letter Mistakes to Avoid
1) “It was a dark and stormy night.”
Not a great way to start a cover letter. Although I appreciate a story with added suspense, it’s best to be straightforward when describing your experience.
2) Don’t profess the love you still have for your ex-wife.
Aside from being overly personal, it has no connection to the role for which you’re applying. Keep cover letters professional and on-point.
3) “Proficient in Instagram.”
I’ve seen this listed under Skills more than once. Being able to navigate a mobile photo app isn’t a professional skill. The right filter is a matter of opinion and you can let those skills shine on the weekends.
4) “OMG!” “LOL!”
Cover letters are not text messages. Also, try to avoid emoticons if possible 😉
5) Cover Letter and Resume. Page 1 of 6.
The dreaded length disclosure. Anything longer than two pages is too long. One page should suffice for entry level and a few years of experience. If you have 5+ years of experience, two pages can be appropriate. The less verbose, the better. You’ll have the chance to elaborate during your interview.
6) “I know how to penetrate an organization. Have me in. You will not be disappointed.”
The ability to reach decision makers is appealing, but choose your wording wisely. You don’t want to make your recruiter uncomfortable with such aggressive language.
7) “I know the name of that thing you’re too lazy to Google.”
Try not to insult your future coworkers. (For the record, I’m pretty savvy on Bing, too.)
It’s also dangerous to lean on business babble to make yourself sound smart. It can come across as talking down, not to mention it makes a cover letter painful to get through.
8) “This job is beneath me, but I’ll give it a whirl.”
A somewhat unconventional approach. This tactic misses the mark on humility, and also implies you will get bored rather quickly in the job for which you’re applying. Employers are looking for people who will do more than attempt to contribute.
9) “I’ll spare you the gruesome face-crying details in my cover letter.”
Please do. Cover letters are not a forum for heart-wrenching stories. This is a bit too emotional for most recruiters’ taste.
10) “I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed.”
Don’t confess your shortcomings and weaknesses. Emphasize your strengths instead of trying to prematurely ward off objections.
11) “I want free beer and books.”
This is one of HubSpot’s perks — free beer and books. I recommend not to make office perks the focal point for your interest in a company or role. We all love free stuff, but that’s not the only reason you should want a job.
It’s the same case for something like, “I am fluent in remote working.” Don’t emphasize how good you are at not coming to work. To us, it translates to, “Would rather not come in.” And while you don’t have to be in the office to get work done, but it shouldn’t be used as a selling point.
12) “I am a phenomenal office party dancer.”
I’m also a phenomenal dancer, but we don’t know each other yet. Try to hold back until you’ve determined what interviewer/interviewee demeanor is appropriate.
13) “I am the Chief Rainmaking Officer of my own organization.”
While it’s always great to be creative and set yourself apart from the competition, inflated job titles are a turn-off. This was also from an entry level candidate, which raises even more red flags for recruiters.
14) Don’t use “Ahoy, there” as your introduction.
You have my attention, but unless you’re applying for a role as a sailor or a pirate, this isn’t the way to go.
And lastly, a bonus tip: If you manage to avoid these cover letter blunders and have a scheduled phone interview, don’t answer the phone with: “Sorry, it’s so early.” Especially if it’s 10 AM.
Whether you’re a recruiter or a hiring manager, you’ve probably come across some bizarre cover letter blunders in your time. Share the weirdest with us on Twitter, won’t you?