Ten Cover Letter Don'ts

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Your cover letter is the first thing employers see when they open your materials. Avoid these 10 mistakes and make your first impression a good and lasting one.

Mistake No. 1: Don't Overuse "I"

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Your cover letter is not your autobiography. The focus should be on how you meet an employer's needs, not on your life story. Avoid the perception of being self-centered by minimizing your use of the word "I," especially at the beginning of your sentences.

Mistake No. 2: Don't Use a Weak Opening

Job seekers frequently struggle with how to begin a cover letter. This often results in a feeble introduction lacking punch and failing to grab the reader's interest. Consider this example:

  • Weak: Please consider me for your sales representative opening.
  • Better: Your need for a top-performing sales representative is an excellent match to my three-year history as a No. 1-ranked, multimillion-dollar producer.

Mistake No. 3: Don't Omit Your Top Selling Points

A cover letter is a sales letter that sells you as a candidate. Just like the resume, it should be compelling and give the main reasons why you should be called for an interview. Winning cover-letter strategies include emphasizing your top accomplishments or creating subheadings culled from the job posting. For example:

Your ad specifies: Communication skills

I offer: Five years of public speaking experience and an extensive background in executive-level reports.

Your ad specifies: The need for a strong computer background.

I offer: Proficiency in all MS Office applications with additional expertise in website development and design.

Mistake No. 4: Don't Make It Too Long

If your cover letter exceeds one page, you may be putting readers to sleep. Keep it concise, compelling and be respectful of readers' time.

Mistake No. 5: Don't Repeat Your Resume Word for Word

Your cover letter shouldn't regurgitate what's on your resume. Reword your cover-letter statements to avoid dulling your resume's impact. Consider using the letter to tell a brief story, such as "My Toughest Sale" or "My Biggest Technical Challenge."

Mistake No. 6: Don't Be Vague

If you're replying to an advertised opening, reference the specific job title in your cover letter. The person reading your letter may be reviewing hundreds of letters for dozens of different jobs. Make sure all the content in your letter supports how you will meet the employer's specific needs.

Mistake No. 7: Don't Forget to Customize

If you're applying to a number of similar positions, chances are that you're tweaking one letter and using it for multiple openings. That's fine, as long as you are customizing each one. 

Don't forget to update the company, job and contact information -- if Mr. Jones is addressed as Mrs. Smith, he won't be impressed.

Mistake No. 8: Don't End on a Passive Note

When possible, put your future in your own hands with a promise to follow up. Instead of asking readers to call you, try a statement like this: I will follow up with you in a few days to answer any preliminary questions you may have. In the meantime, you may reach me at (555) 555-5555.

Mistake No. 9: Don't Be Rude

Your cover letter should thank the reader for his time and consideration.

Mistake No. 10: Don't Forget to Sign the Letter

It is proper business etiquette (and shows attention to detail) to sign your letter. However, if you are sending your cover letter and resume via email or the web, a signature isn't necessary.

Related: For the latest veteran jobs postings around the country, visit the Military.com Job Search section.

The Next Step: Get Your Resume Out There

Get your resume seen by companies that are seeking veterans like you. Post your resume with Monster.com.

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