Your cover letter is one of the most important pieces of your job application. In it, you have the opportunity to showcase your aptitude for writing as well as your experience, skills, and even your personality. Yet we often balk when crafting a cover letter, as the options of what to write about can seem overwhelming.
Before you begin writing a cover letter, it can be helpful to start with knowing what not to write about. Here are some phrases never to include in a cover letter, along with alternatives to use in order to make your cover letter as compelling as possible.
1. “To whom it may concern”
As the first line a hiring manager sees when reading your cover letter, the salutation you choose carries more weight than you might think. Using a salutation such as “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam” is an immediate red flag to the person reading your cover letter. Not only is it awkwardly formal and impersonal, but it also indicates you haven’t done your research to determine the name of the person who’ll be reading your letter. It’s best to take the time to do some research on LinkedIn or the company’s website to find the name of the hiring manager or recruiter who’ll be reading your letter. If you truly can’t find the name of the person, use “Dear Hiring Manager” as your salutation.
2. “Detail-oriented”; “outside-the-box thinker”; “dynamic”
Try to stay away from clichéd adjectives, as they don’t provide any specific information about you that will distinguish you from other candidates. Being “detail-oriented” may sound impressive to you, but buzzwords like this are overused and vague. In your cover letter, strive to minimize the number of unnecessary adjectives and adverbs you use, including qualifiers like “very” and “truly.” Instead of describing yourself as “being detail-oriented” in your role as an event planner, you could say you “corresponded with vendors daily, compiled a guest list, and developed a seating chart for a lunch-and-learn with 50 clients in attendance.” Your focus should be on using action verbs to illustrate concrete results you’ve achieved in your role.
3. “This job would help me”
While you may be tempted to discuss how this given role would enable you to grow in your career, the employer is not interested in what you want. You are still in the very first round of the application process, so it is imperative to underscore what you can do to add value to the company, not what the company can do for you. You should wait until you have a job offer on the table before you even begin to discuss what you want from the company, such as specific experiences or benefits.
4. The wrong company name
Although we all know how important it is to craft a unique cover letter for every position to which we apply, many of us are guilty of having repurposed sentences from past cover letters at one time or another. If you do lift sentences from an old cover letter, it is crucial that you check to make sure you've updated the company name. Especially if you are applying to many companies in a short period of time, you may not notice that you have the wrong company name in the body of your cover letter. That’s why it’s vital to ask another person to look over your cover letter not only to check your spelling and grammar, but also to make sure you didn’t make any jarring mistakes that would immediately disqualify you from the job.
5. “I think I’d be a great fit”
Using the phrase “I think” immediately calls into question your confidence in your ability to carry out the duties of role. You don’t want to make the hiring manager have to “think” about whether you’d be a good fit; you want them to know. To this end, you should be confident and assertive about your accomplishments and discuss how they would translate to success in this new role. Of course, it’s important not to come across as arrogant—stay away from calling yourself the “best” or “ideal” candidate for the job. Objectively, you don’t know what the rest of the applicant pool looks like, so it would be presumptuous for you to state that you’re the best. Rather, focus on what you do know about your qualifications for the job. If you highlight your notable skills and illustrate how they would help you in this new role, you will be well on your way to writing a stellar cover letter.
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