When it comes to cover letters, I’ve seen—and tried—it all. I’ve written stiff, formal documents (“Dear Sir or Madame”), overly casual notes (“Hey guys! Cover letters suck, huh?”), and everything in between. One time, I even composed one entirely in rhyme. (Yes, I did. And no, I didn’t get the job.)
They’re are a blessing and a curse. They give you some elbow room to discuss your qualifications, which is a welcome relief from the crunched bullet points of a resume. But because of that freedom (and that intimidating blank page to fill), it’s easy to veer off in the wrong direction and make some common mistakes that can pretty much guarantee you’re not getting a call back.
If you’re in my cover-letter-writing boat, chances are you’ve made some of these blunders before. Read on to learn five of the most common cover letter mistakes—and how you can turn them into successes.
1. You Didn’t Listen to the Advice Everyone Gave You
You’ve heard all the basic dos and don’ts. But somehow, rookie mistakes still make their way into even experienced job seekers’ writing. If, for example, you address the cover letter “Dear Sir” when the hiring manager is a woman, you fill three entire pages with your every achievement since kindergarten, or you forget to proofread and let the opening line read: “I absolutely love you’re company!”—it’ll go straight into the trash can.
You’ve probably heard this advice time and again, but unfortunately, job applicants keep making these classic mistakes, so it bears repeating: Keep your cover letter to a single page, pay attention to details (e.g., address the letter specifically to the hiring manager by name), and most importantly proofread, proofread, proofread. And then, proofread again.
2. You Regurgitated Your Resume
Your cover letter’s meant to complement your resume—not reiterate it. So, it won’t do you much good if you simply take the best bullet points from your resume and repeat them in your cover letter. If your cover letter and resume are replicas of each other, why submit two documents in the first place?
A job application is supposed to be a representation of you as a whole, well-rounded potential employee—so between your various application materials, you should aim to convey a variety of pertinent information. Instead of just repeating yourself (“I was in charge of reviewing invoice disputes”), use your cover letter to describe additional details that you weren’t able to squeeze onto the single page of your resume:
“By resolving invoice disputes, I gained a deep analytical knowledge—but more importantly, I learned how to interact calmly and diplomatically with angry customers.”
A cover letter gives you the freedom to use full sentences—instead of bullet points—so use them to expand upon your resume and tell the story of why you’re the perfect fit for the company.
3. You Used a Canned Version
You may not love the idea of composing a unique cover letter for each job you apply to, but it’s worth it. When a recruiter reads, “Dear Hiring Manager<, I am so excited to apply for the open position at your company, where I hope to utilize my skills to progress in my career,” she immediately recognizes it for what it is—a stock cover letter that you’ve mass-distributed to every place in town. And that’s not going to fly with a company that wants employees who are truly excited about its unique mission and vision.
Write a cover letter that's specific to the job and company you’re applying to, explaining why you’re interested in that particular position. If you take the time to write something thoughtful (“I’m a daily reader of your company’s blog. Your post about personal branding actually inspired me to start my own blog—and that has given me the perfect experience for the open role of Marketing Content Specialist”), you’ll instantly convey that you are genuinely interested in that particular company.
4. You Highlighted Your Weaknesses
If you don’t meet the basic requirements of the job, your resume will clearly indicate that—so you don’t need to begin your letter by stating, “I know I don’t actually have any coding experience or know much about computers, but…” That simply shines light on the fact that you’re not qualified. And once the recruiter realizes that, she probably won’t make it to the part of the letter where you try to convince her that she should hire you anyway.
Focus on explaining how your past experience—regardless of how irrelevant it may seem at first—will translate to this new role. This is the beauty of cover letters: Resumes barely allow enough room for a few bullet points of duties and accomplishments—but cover letters let you more thoroughly explain how those experiences will make you a perfect fit for any position.
For example, perhaps you were a manager of a bakery in the past, but want to apply for a writing position. The experience doesn’t seem to correlate, does it? But, when you highlight the fact that you composed, edited, and published your previous company’s training materials and employee handbook, you suddenly do, in fact, have that required experience.
...Why not make it easier on yourself?
Talk to a Cover Letter Coach Today
5. You Focused on What the Company Can Do for You
When you apply to a job you’re really excited about, it’s natural to want to convey your enthusiasm to the company: “I’ve wanted to work for your company since I was little—this would be my dream job, and it would mean so much to me if you would grant me an interview!”
But when a hiring manager reads what you wrote, she wants to see what a potential employee would do for her company—not what the job would do for you. She wants to hear about the unique skills and expertise you’d bring to the team and how you’ll help the company grow and succeed.
While it’s fine to convey that you’re excited about a position, use a slightly different angle—one that shows how your enthusiasm will directly benefit the company: “I was very excited to find this open position because I’ve been following your company since its startup phase. My thorough understanding of your company’s background and mission means that I can jump in and make contributions to your marketing team right away.”
Now you’ve shown that the relationship will be mutually beneficial: You’ll have a great job with a company you love—and the company will have a valuable, skilled, and enthusiastic new employee (who, coincidentally, is also an amazing cover letter writer).
Smart tips to help you format and write a cover letter
Struggling to write a cover letter that will catch an employer's attention? We've got tips to help you show your best self—and a sample you can use to get started.
There's nothing scary about writing a cover letter.
You've found the perfect job, hit the "apply" button, and started the process with your engines revved and ready. But wait! Slam the brakes! They want a cover letter. Oh no.
Don't let this request derail you. Here's everything you need to know to write a letter that truly sells your skills. Plus, scroll down to see a sample cover letter you can use to craft your own.
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a one-page document that, along with your resume, is sent with your job application. A cover letter is your chance to tell a potential employer why you’re the perfect person for the position and how your skills and expertise can add value to the company. The letter should be professional but personable, and serve as a sort of introduction.
Do I need to send a cover letter?
A lot of job seekers today wonder if a cover letter is still appropriate to send with your resume—and the answer is yes! Even if an employer doesn’t ask for a cover letter, it couldn’t hurt to send one. In fact, it’s can help you get someone's attention in a different way, and it can be a great way to display your enthusiasm for the job and company.
What are the basic elements of a cover letter?
- Greeting: Address your cover letter to the proper person.
- Opening: Write a personable, inviting opening paragraph that notes how your skills are a perfect fit to the job and displays your enthusiasm.
- Hook: Highlight your past achievements as they relate to the job you're applying for.
- Skills: Emphasize additional relevant skills, such as computer languages or certifications.
- Close: Briefly recap your strengths as a candidate, and include your contact information.
Cover letter tips
1. Parrot the keywords: Just like with your resume, your cover letters should be customized for each job you apply to. Start by reviewing the job description. In it, you will find important keywords that let you know what kind of employee the company is hoping to find. Use these same keywords throughout your cover letter.
2. Adapt for the company: Each version of your cover letter should talk about how your skills will benefit the particular company that you want to work for. You want to target the company’s needs—not your own. Demonstrate how you could help them achieve their goals. Remember: You're selling yourself in a resume and a cover letter, but the employer has to want to buy.
3. Show you "get" them: Your cover letter should demonstrate that you have done some research into what the organization's pain points are. Presenting yourself as a solution to a hiring manager’s problem can help your cover letter take the right tone. If you’re applying to an administrative position, be sure to mention your time-management skills; if you’re an IT professional, include your expertise in improving efficiency. Always ask yourself: How can I help this company?
4. Proofread. Don’t assume spell check will catch every mistake (it won’t). Slowly review your cover letter to make sure everything reads properly. Have someone else read your cover letter for backup.
Need even more confidence before you start your cover letter? Below are some additional cover letter tips you could reference—or keep scrolling for a cover letter sample:
Cover letter mistakes you should avoid: From overusing “I” to being too vague, there are a bunch of pitfalls that can trip you up. Don’t let them!
Cover letter format and advice tips: Learn how to set up your cover letter and what each section should include.
Cover letter tips for new grads: You might lack real-world work experience, but your cover letter can be chock-full of activities that demonstrate your potential to succeed.
Cover letter tips for technology professionals: The ease of applying to online jobs has led many IT professionals to skip sending a cover letter, but that’s a mistake.
Cover letter tips for finance professionals: If you’re searching for a finance job or want to be prepared just in case, you will need a dynamic cover letter to grab the hiring managers’ attention.
Tips for better email cover letters: If you're emailing a resume, your cover letter will deliver the first impression. These eight tips will help you craft a better email cover letter.
Cover letter sample
Check out the sample cover letter below (or download the template as a Word doc) to get some inspiration to craft your own. And we've also got you covered if you're looking for a cover letter in a specific industry.
Once you've finished your cover letter, consider joining Monster—you can upload and store up to five cover letters and resumes, so that you can apply for jobs on our site in a snap!
Ms. Rhonda West
Customer Service Manager
123 Corporate Blvd.
Sometown, CO 50802
Re: Customer Service Representative Opening (Ref. ID: CS300-Denver)
Dear Ms. West:
I was excited to see your opening for a customer service rep, and I hope to be invited for an interview.
My background includes serving as a customer service associate within both call-center and retail environments. Most recently, I worked on the customer service desk for Discount-Mart, where my responsibilities included handling customer merchandise returns, issuing refunds/store credits, flagging damaged merchandise for shipment back to vendors and providing back-up cashiering during busy periods.
Previously, I worked within two high-volume customer-support call centers for a major telecommunications carrier and a satellite television services provider. In these positions, I demonstrated the ability to resolve a variety of issues and complaints (such as billing disputes, service interruptions or cutoffs, repair technician delays/no-shows and equipment malfunctions). I consistently met my call-volume goals, handling an average of 56 to 60 calls per day.
In addition to this experience, I gained considerable customer service skills during my part-time employment as a waitress and restaurant hostess while in high school.
I also bring to the table strong computer proficiencies in MS Word, MS Excel and CRM database applications and a year of college (business major). Please see the accompanying resume for details of my experience and education.
I am confident that I can offer you the customer service, communication and problem-solving skills you are seeking. Feel free to call me at 555-555-5555 (home) or 555-555-5500 (cell) to arrange an interview. Thank you for your time—I look forward to learning more about this opportunity!