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The 5 Biggest Cover Letter Mistakes

Jose Fermoso by Jose Fermoso, Career Advice Contributor

Applicants who succeed at getting job interviews write good cover letters. This is an incontrovertible fact which human resources experts and hiring officers all across the United States agree on. So any scuttlebutt that these letters are not as important as they used to be is straight-up false.

How do you write a good cover letter, then? Well, we have ideas about how to get started. Before that, though, we think you should be aware of the worst aspects of cover letter writing. Think of the following as bright signs on a road warning you about bumps to watch out for.

1. Keyword flooding

Career expert Arno Markus says focusing on improving keyword usage in your cover letter to match those found in job listings is smart. Not smart is flooding your letter with irrelevant keywords.

“People hear about keywords and ATS and list them out. But that’s a big mistake because they may or may not be relevant to the job. What’s relevant is the keywords the position or hiring manager is using. It’s their keyword set. So if you have a general resume or cover letter — and you’re not really reading those job descriptions and you’re definitely not incorporating their keywords — you’re just going to get weeded out anyways,” Markus says.

Get step-by-step guidance and expert tips for writing a cover letter when you use our Cover Letter Builder.

2. Writing too much

Ashley Stahl, known as one of the country’s top career experts, says one of the worst things you can do in an application is write a long cover letter. In fact, she points out in a recent blog post, educational and business institutions have found through survey-based research that about  70% of employers want a letter half a page long or shorter. That’s a huge bit of advice you should follow.

“Nothing is worse than a long, novel-like cover letter that makes the hiring manager tired just looking at it. Keep your cover letter concise and to the point,” she says.

3. Adding typos

Rewriting is an important part of the cover letter process. But as with any important document that goes through several drafts, it’s also good to remember to check on typos throughout and especially at the end of the process when you’re ready to submit.

While there are ways you could survive from submitting a cover letter with a typo, such as sending a follow-up email with an update, it’s not a comfortable position to be in. That’s why experts recommend creating a re-reading process as well as using common word document application tools like spell-checker to catch anything you might’ve missed.

4. Talking about yourself too much

Focusing solely on your accomplishments in a cover letter is like talking too much about yourself on a date. The other person is going to ask themselves about why you’re even interested in them if you’re doing so great by yourself. That’s why Ian Siegel, the CEO of ZipRecruiter, recently told NBC that the biggest thing people should do when writing a cover letter is to specifically explain, at the top of the letter, why they’re excited to join their company.

“Don’t talk about yourself first; talk about them first. My golden rule is to make them feel excited,” Siegel said. “Your excitement will get them excited — it’s the best way to get their attention.”

5. Telling a deeply personal story

You don’t want people to be uncomfortable when reading your cover letter. So when it comes to including a personal anecdote, it should connect strongly with your career and goals at the hiring company. Think of a Latinx reporter who wants to cover education news because they were the first person in their family to go to college, and also understand telling stories about people graduating from difficult circumstances is important for the community. Not everyone can make that easily a connection, though.

If you do have a meaningful story, make sure to specifically point out the hows and whys of its relevance to the job at hand and how it’ll make you a great worker.