The 7 Deadly Sins of Cover Letter Writing

By Jada A. Graves

A cover letter is designed to inform and interest an employer to read on to your resume. All too often, though, the cover letter bores, offends, or sometimes amuses—but not in a good way—the people who read them. Successfully achieving the former is the first step to gaining an interview with the company, but commit the latter and your job materials will be sent to a hiring manager’s “no” pile quicker than you could write “References Available Upon Request.”

What are some of the gravest sins you could make when composing a cover letter? Read on:

2. If you’re including typos and misspelled words, “your” going to miss a good opportunity. Often, it’s not on obvious spelling errors that job seekers get snagged, but on the little niggling slip-ups that spell check might not catch. Quadruple-check all their vs. there sentences and watch out for its vs. it’s mentions. You should also be diligent to avoid common grammar mistakes, and know when to use “that” vs. “which” or “its” instead of “their.” These tiny boo-boos won’t seem tiny to the grammarian hiring manager.

“Your letter is an indication of your communication skills,” says Kursmark. “If you can’t write a letter for a job, what are you going to do when you’re writing emails, or speaking to people on the telephone?”

Also falling under typos and misspellings: botching the name of the hiring manager. Leslie Smyth won’t appreciate receiving Lesley Smith’s mail. “People are sensitive about their names,” Kursmark says. “They want their name spelled correctly, and they get offended if it’s spelled wrong. All might not be lost—it depends on how sensitive the [hiring manager] is. But you should still avoid making this mistake entirely.”

When in doubt: It’s always harder to spot your own mistakes. Ask an impartial friend or a mentor if they’d be willing to proofread your job materials.

6. If you’re using big, outdated SAT words, you’ll appear supercilious. Do you actually know anyone who uses the words “bathetic,” “perspicacious,” and “supernumerary?” Neither does your hiring manager. Save those antics for Scrabble—your manner of speech will convey your intelligence more than the number of syllables per word. “Be crisp and clear and use short words and sentences,” Kursmark says. “You don’t actually impress people by using $5 words. Especially if you misuse them.”

When in doubt: If you’re using Microsoft Word to compose cover letters, you can adjust your spell-check preferences to also “Show readability statistics.” This tool will estimate the grade level of the writing in your document. Kursmark recommends sticking to a sixth- or seventh-grade writing level.

See all 7 sins and the complete USNews article

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