Don’t Include These Things In a Cover Letter


When it comes to job applications, many candidates treat the cover letter as an afterthought. This is a mistake; your cover letter (along with your résumé) is your first chance to make a dynamite impression on a recruiter or company’s HR staff.

If you want your cover letter to enhance your application and résumé, make sure you avoid the following things:

Overreliance On a Template

Many candidates’ first error: Relying too much on a template to build their cover letter. Although your cover letter shouldn’t be too informal, it should also showcase your unique skills and personality. You’re telling a story—the narrative of you as an awesome professional.

Most templates begin in a very standard-issue way. “My name is [X], and I am applying for the position of [X],” for example. Sure, you’re conveying the information, but you’re not grabbing the attention of someone who’s devoting a very limited amount of time to reading your materials. Instead, focus on a pithy opening that “grabs” the reader. For example:

“Ever since I used Hadoop to save my dog’s life when I was eighteen, I’ve been fascinated with data analytics.”

Chances are good that nobody’s ever used an open-source framework for distributed data processing to save a beloved canine’s life, but you get the point: Your first paragraph should ensure they want to read your second (and third) paragraph.

Going Over One Page

While some tech pros will debate all day over whether you should write a résumé longer than one page, keeping your cover letter to one page is a chiseled-in-stone law. The best cover letters not only convey your experience and skills, but do so in as expedited a manner as possible.

Passive Verbs

Just as with your résumé, use active verbs whenever possible to convey your responsibilities and accomplishments; reliance on passive verbs and sentence structures will do nothing but drain the energy from your descriptions.

Generic Salutation

Salutations are potential minefields. “Dear sir” could come off as sexist; “To Whom It May Concern” or “To Sir or Madam” shows you didn’t do enough research. Engage in a bit of online searching, find the name of the hiring manager you want to impress, and use their first and last name in the salutation; that will help you avoid stepping on a landmine. (Even if your application package doesn’t end up in front of the hiring manager you’ve addressed, your attention to detail will be noted.)

Typos and Incorrect Grammar

Such things obviously have no place in your cover letter. While it’s tempting to shoot out a cover letter and résumé without having someone else read it over—especially if you’re applying for a lot of jobs within a short period, and think you don’t have the time for a second pair of eyes—any proofreading is always worth it, because the alternative is never getting a call for a job interview if you have a typo (or three).

8 Responses to “Don’t Include These Things In a Cover Letter”

  1. A Cover letter is 1 page, a resume can be 1-3 pages and a CV as much as 5 pages. The CV is your resume plus hobbies, interests and shows off your CHARACTER.

    Write for your AUDIENCE.

    i am 55 and have had 75+ jobs and ranging from $2/hr to $88/hr
    and the more you get paid, usually the less work and more thinking you have to do. Give the recruiters what they want.

    Avoid showing weakness even if asked, show strength and confidence.

  2. Dennis R. Green

    So, having done a great cover letter, how can I avoid giving my date of birth and/or college graduation if asked for them specifically on an email application form? I am 72, want and need to work, and am smarter/creative-er/experienced-er than any 3 24 year olds!


  3. Everything having to do with resumes have to be completely rethought. The whole process has gone totally out of scope and control and there is too much reliance on resumes and cover letters. There has to be another way.

    We have to come up with a completely different process. So much emphasis and eventual craziness has evolved around resumes and cover letters, a whole industry to design them and make them better and all the dos and don’ts etc has made everybody whacko.

    I’m thinking about new methods and I hope others are too!!!

  4. Ralph Winslow

    You and I share a birth year Dennis, and I too have pondered how to avoid revealing just how seasoned I really am. I’ve decided that I don’t really want to work for those who require answers to illegal questions. I suppose that sounds like “sour grapes”, but I simply leave such questions blank, and never respond to requests for clarification. My difficulties along these lines are compounded by the fact that I lack a degree in a field (computer programming) in which that fact is incomprehensible to most hiring management. Best of luck to you in your search for meaningful employment.

  5. New York

    Unfortunately, I don’t think any of these cover letters are actually getting to employers. They are going to this void of robots that spam back jobs from nowhere close to what the application was for.

    This week, I’m changing my strategy and stopping the careful consideration since I’m not getting anything but spam back. I’m basically spamming my resume over to anything remotely matched for me. If they get my resume from ten job boards, then maybe one of them will actually go through to an employer and not a robot.

  6. Cube Farmer

    Shotgunning is really the only way to job search anymore. It doesn’t matter what you write or how much personality you show off – you just need to hit the keywords that a particular automated resume scanner is looking for to actually land in front a human. And since that human just wants the position filled and you’re (allegedly) qualified, you’ll at least get a call. THAT’S when you need to shine.

    Useless paperwork is useless. Copy/paste cover letter and move on. You can’t waste 2 hours tailoring and researching a resume for a single position that you might never hear back about.

  7. I came up with my own template. I just change a sentence or two to tailor the job. I list my qualifications, work experience, thoughts on why I desire the job and why I think I’m a great fit. It’s only two paragraphs.

    I hadn’t applied for jobs in a few months but got 12 interviews in 10 months which is about 30-40 jobs applied. I am currently employed just looking for advancement.

  8. The part about not using “To whom is may concern” irks me. It is very hard in recent times to find hiring managers or names of specific people in charge of hiring unless you are submitting your application directly to them. Otherwise you are just submitting to some electronic database, where I can guarantee the cover letter is just glossed over by a computer looking for keywords before either pushing your resume forward, or not at all.