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6 Things you should never put in your cover letter

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When submitting a job application, your resume can only go so far. Resumes tell prospective employers about your experience and education, but they’re essentially fact sheets. A cover letter gives applicants the opportunity to share more detailed information on why they’d be a good fit for a particular role at a specific company.

We’ll outline some common cover letter mistakes to avoid and share tips and best practices for cover letters that show you in the best possible light.

Cover letter mistakes to avoid

A cover letter can show a hiring manager why you’re the best fit for a position, so getting it right is worth your time and effort. However, crafting an effective cover letter can be challenging. You must showcase your skills without appearing self-important or succumbing to cliches.

Here are six cover letter mistakes to avoid at all costs.

1. Highlighting where you lack specific skills

It’s easy to feel vulnerable when applying for a job, especially if you have limited work experience or few required skills. However, starting a cover letter by underselling yourself or drawing attention to the skills or knowledge you lack is never advisable.

Author and career development professional Lavie Margolin says cover letters aren’t the place to list your weaknesses. “I have seen one too many cover letters with the following phrase: ‘Although I do not yet have,'” Margolin noted. “If you do not have something, why are you emphasising it?”

Instead, Margolin says job seekers should focus on existing in-demand career skills, experiences and talents that will interest the potential employer.

“If you are looking for a job, then you are in the sales business. What you write in your cover letter should most effectively sell the skills, experience and abilities that you do have, as opposed to emphasising those things that are lacking,” Margolin advised. “Emphasising a weakness on your cover letter may be costing you the job.”

2. Not proofreading for typos and cliches

Sometimes, job seekers get so caught up in finding the best way to express their ideas that they forget to pay close attention to their cover letter’s details. Typos, using the wrong company information and cliches are common mistakes to look for in your proofreading efforts.

  • Look for cover letter typos. According to Joe Weinlick, COO of Catalyst Experiential, cover letter typos are an egregious yet common mistake. Rigorously proofreading your cover letter will allow your content to shine. “Spell-check is your friend. Use it, but don’t rely on it,” Weinlick advised. “Print out your cover letter, read it from start to finish and make sure there aren’t any typos before sending it out. Your cover letter is the first impression you make on a hiring manager – make sure it’s a good one.”
  • Ensure you use the correct company information. You may be tempted to reuse parts of your cover letter when applying for similar positions with different companies. However, failing to update the company information for each letter is an unforgivable offense. Double-check that you have the correct details for the company, including the specific position for which you are applying and the name of the hiring manager, if possible.
  • Watch for cliches and buzzwords. When proofreading your cover letter, look for and eliminate cliches and overused buzzwords. Instead of using vague words to describe your work ethic or experience (“I’m a motivated self-starter”), provide specific examples that demonstrate the qualities you’d like to highlight. “Don’t use buzzwords,” warned Bob Kovalsky, vice president of Volt Workforce Solutions. “Including descriptors such as ‘detail-oriented,’ ‘hardworking,’ ‘team player’ and ‘proactive’ doesn’t tell HR managers anything about your experience.”

3. Remaining stuck in the past

Maybe you were let go from your last job, or maybe you’re looking for new opportunities. Regardless of the reason for your job search, don’t spend your cover letter’s limited space focusing on your past.

“The worst thing a potential employee can do [in a cover letter] is to explain why they left their current or former position,” shared Kim Kaupe, co-founder of Bright Ideas Only. “It’s like starting out a first date by talking about your ex! I don’t want to hear about your past; I want to hear about your now and future and how you are going to become an asset to my company.”

Steering clear of the past is especially important if you had a contentious relationship with an employer. “Saying that you’re looking for a new opportunity because your previous employer was unfair or you had an incompetent boss will only make you look bad,” warned Tracy Russell, a talent acquisition coordinator at Intuit. “Oftentimes, if this type of negative information is in the cover letter, recruiters won’t even look at the resume.”

4. Talking about money too soon

There’s a time and place to discuss salary during the hiring process, but your cover letter isn’t it. Lisa Benson, president and CEO of Mary Kraft HR, advises against providing any unsolicited salary information in the cover letter “unless [you] are specifically asked to do so, particularly if there is a disparity between what is advertised or indicated in the ad [you] are responding to. No prospective employer wants to hire someone who is only about the money.”

5. Making it all about you

Another common mistake applicants make is using their cover letter to boast about their talents without acknowledging how they will use them to benefit a prospective employer.

“The worst thing a candidate can do in their cover letter is make it all about themselves and what they’re looking for,” said Ian Yates, senior director of corporate accounts at Thermo Fisher Scientific. “The best thing to do is focus on why they’ll be a great fit, how they’ll make a contribution, and what they’ve done, or will do, to support [the organisation].”

“It is a fine line between confident and arrogant,” added Sue Hardek, managing director at ZRG Partners. Hardek noted that candidates should avoid overselling themselves and being boastful about accomplishments and strengths.

6. Letting AI do the heavy lifting

Many generative AI companies boast that their AI tools can save time by drafting perfect cover letters. While AI is transforming business, including the job search process, you must be especially careful when using it for your cover letter.

Opinions about using AI in the workplace are mixed. You don’t want to risk coming across a hiring manager who suspects an AI-generated cover letter and immediately tosses your application. Worse, AI might utilise copied text or provide other job seekers with the same phrasing, leading hiring managers to suspect you of plagiarism.

AI can be a good place to start, but you should never rely on it for a final product. AI can help you generate ideas, synthesise your experience with the history and needs of the company, or assist with general editing. But when it comes to the final product, you want your voice to shine through, so ensure the writing is your own – even if you’ve had some help.

Have you written a good cover letter taking the steps above into account? Let experts at QTC Recruitment help you find an opportunity that fits your goals within the Life Science industry, we have the expertise to offer personalised guidance relating to your specific career path. Check out how we can help you here.

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