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7 Things to Avoid When Designing a Cover Letter

There's no denying it: a strong cover letter is a crucial part of any job application. Before submitting yours for a dream job, make sure you have steered clear of the following common design pitfalls.

1. Over designing

Bold templates and eye-catching fonts are definitely appealing, but you don't want to trip your reader up as they try to cull information about you. "Make it easy for me to get your story," advises Victoria Vitarelli, a career consultant and marketing expert who's worked with brands including Garnier and Bausch & Lomb. Another reason to keep it simple: there's no guarantee the application tracking software will keep all your design elements in order when your application is opened and considered.

2. Relying too much on a template

A template can provide a solid start, but remember: it's just a guide. Relying too much on one can make your letter sound canned and uninspired. If you use a template, make sure to customize the body so that it tells your particular story, and that the story lines up with the requirements noted in the job advertisement.

3. Unconventional formatting choices

Successful cover letters should contain several basic building blocks in addition to some customized information about how your skills and vision fit the job description. Splitting your content into columns, or putting your body paragraph information in bullet points format, checklist format, or numerical format could make it seem like you don't know the rules of the (job hunting) game.

4. Going overboard on the header

While the header is the best place to infuse your letter with a bit of your personal style, do not (repeat: DO NOT!) over do it. A bolder font for your name or a simple, shaded header background is probably all you need for it to appear polished and professional. Anything more can feel overblown. "And no one has ever gotten a job because of a gimmick," says Gina Hadley, the co-founder of The Second Shift, a platform that connects qualified female candidates to companies that offer family-friendly professional opportunities.

5. Adding a photo

Lots of templates make this option available, which can make it super tempting to upload your most professional-looking headshot, but our advice is to skip it. First, you don't know how the hiring manager or recruiter who reads your application might feel about this trend, which is acceptable in some industries (and countries) but not in others. Furthermore, if your letter grabs their interest based on your career story, they will be looking up your profiles online where a photo makes more sense.

6. Including graphics

If you're applying for a design position, this might make sense. However, for just about any other job opportunity, the cover letter isn't the best place to showcase your creative talent. A snazzy online portfolio or Pinterest page are much better venues for shining the spotlight on your skills. Include the URLs to both (or just one), if you would like, in your resume.

7. Forgetting to dot your i's and cross your t's

Okay, not really because your letter will not be handwritten. But you still need to pay attention to margins (ideally one inch all around), typos, extra words, and signing the letter (if you're sending it by snail mail or leaving a copy with the hiring manager after an interview).

These small mistakes can add up and detract from the overall look of your letter. "Your goal is to make it past the gatekeeper and to be considered a strong candidate," says Nancy Small, CEO of Tourism Richmond, a destination marketing and business development organization in Richmond, British Columbia. So, do not let sloppy mistakes trip you up.

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