4 ways you’re killing your cover letter

We’ve all messed up a cover letter by using specific words and phrases — here’s what else has most likely happened to you, and why you shouldn’t even think about going down these paths.

You started off all wrong

Melissa Kirsch, author and Editor-in-Chief of Lifehacker, writes about common cover letter mistakes on the site, including using “an archaic or sexist greeting (e.g., Dear Sir).”

After explaining this point, she goes on to write what you should do instead: ‘To Whom It May Concern’ works; ‘To the hiring team at [Company Name]’ is good. If you can find out the name of the HR representative or hiring manager, all the better — ‘Dear Ms. Kirsch and the hiring staff at Lifehacker’ shows you did your homework.”


You used a bunch of complicated words…

This could cause more harm than good.

Jada A. Graves, the Careers product manager at U.S. News, features commentary on this idea from author Louise Kursmark on the site.

“Be crisp and clear, and use short words and sentences…You don’t actually impress people by using $5 words. Especially if you misuse them,” she told the publication.

…and didn’t bother to check your spelling

Don’t move too fast— you might regret it later.

Alison Doyle, an author, career expert and founder and CEO of CareerToolBelt.com, writes in The Balance about the mistake of sending in a cover letter with these errors.

“Submitting a letter with grammar and/or spelling errors is a sure way to get screened out,” she wrote. “Use spelling and grammar checking tools to identify some issues, but never trust that they have caught all your errors. Place a finger on every word, read your letter out loud and have friends and advisors review your communications before forwarding them to employers.”

You used it as a second resume

Lily Zhang, Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab, writes about issues she’s seen in cover letters in The Muse. One of them is “rehashing your resume.”

This is what she recommends: “Focus on one or two (OK three, max) examples of your work that highlight what you can bring to the position, and try to help your reader picture you doing the work by really diving deep and detailing your impact,” she writes. “You want the hiring manger to be able to imagine plucking you out of the work you’re describing on the page and placing you into his or her team seamlessly.”