8 Cover Letter Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

Calendar Icon
November 6, 2023
Edited by
Clock Icon
min read

3 key takeaways

  • Understanding the most common cover letter mistakes to ensure your application stands out.
  • How to avoid these mistakes and write a cover letter that stops recruiters in their tracks
  • How to create tailored cover letters with Teal’s AI Resume Builder

Every year, thousands of job seekers make cover letter mistakes that hinder their job search. In the age of LinkedIn, where it seems like almost 900 applicants are vying for a single position within 24 hours of posting, avoiding these mistakes is crucial.

In a world where most job seekers don’t submit cover letters, adding one can set you apart and help you stand out, increasing your chances of landing a job interview.  

Avoid common cover letter mistakes with Teal

Want to avoid mistakes and craft a cover letter that aligns your experience with every role you apply to? 

With Teal, you can generate a tailored, impactful cover letter in less than 30 seconds. Just match your resume with a job description, and the AI Cover Letter Generator will create a customized letter based on your information and position details.

Avoiding cover letter mistakes by using Teal's AI
Avoid common cover letter mistakes by using Teal.

Things to avoid when writing a cover letter

If you choose to write a cover letter, making sure it stands out to hiring professionals is key. 

After all, writing a cover letter can be time-consuming, and your time is valuable—don’t waste it overlooking details that could set you back.

Below are 8 things to avoid while writing a cover letter, so you can be sure your cover letter opens doors instead of closing them.

1. Not following the job description instructions

The job application process is a two-way street. 

While you're evaluating if a company is the right fit for you, recruiters and hiring managers are assessing whether you’re right for the role. One of the first tests they often set is in the job posting itself: the instructions. 

The rules can be pretty specific, and they usually revolve around what they want you to submit, how they want you to submit it, and in what format. 

Including instructions is an easy way for recruiters to weed out applicants who don’t follow the rules because not following them says one of two things: either you don’t pay close attention to detail, or you’re not genuinely interested in this position—or, even worse, both. Trying to beat the system leaves a bad first impression on prospective employers.

What to do instead:

Be an active reader.

Instead of skimming, actively read the specific job posting. Highlight key instructions and double-check to make sure you followed them correctly.

When you’re potentially applying to 10+ jobs a week, they can all start to look the same, making it easy to forget which job is which when a recruiter calls for an interview. 

With Teal’s Job Tracker, you can quickly save, track, and analyze job listings. And the jobs stay in your system, regardless of whether or not the position has been removed from a job board. 

Create a checklist.

Create a checklist based on the employer's guidelines, and cross off items as you go.

Ask someone to proofread your letter. 

Have a friend or mentor review and proofread your cover letter to ensure you haven't missed any instructions or made any errors or typos. 

If you graduated from a college or university, their career center is another free resource for college students and alumni, and cities usually offer free career centers with experts who can give you advice. 

Try searching for “free career center [city or county]” or “free career resources [city or county].”

CareerOneStop can help you locate local resources as well. Just type in your zip code and hit “search.” 

2. Not researching the the company and position

Researching every employer and position before you write your cover letter might sound daunting, but writing a generic cover letter is pointless. 

You want potential employers to read your entire cover letter, and if you don’t make it interesting from the start, you’ll lose them immediately. 

A great way to accomplish this is by demonstrating your knowledge of the company and connecting it to how your skills and experience will help them solve a problem or reach a goal. 

Doing this will help you stand out from 99 percent of other applicants, because the majority just aren’t willing to put in the extra effort to write a truly compelling (and tailored) cover letter. 

What to do instead: 

Visit the company’s website. 

Read the key product pages, and pay attention to the site navigation at the top or in the footer. Sometimes, there will be a “Customers” tab. These are great pages to visit to learn more about the employer’s audience.  

Check the “About” page and “Careers” page (which may be the same) to learn more about the company’s values, mission, founding story, notable milestones, leadership team, and company culture. 

Actually read these pages from top to bottom. Don’t just scan. Search for keywords you could feature in your cover letter. You could pull keywords from places like the “values” section, for instance.  

If they have a blog, notice the topics they cover and read a few recent posts. It might give you some content for your cover letter.

Review all social media accounts. 

Scroll to the footer, or look in the header for the company’s social media links. Click through to every profile you find.

Bonus: follow and engage with them on social media—especially LinkedIn. . This is a great way to get them familiar with your name so they begin to recognize it. 

Another tip: Look through their social media followers. This will give you an idea of their audience.

Google the company and its leaders. 

Type the company’s name into Google and look at the related searches for them. Any negative news stories? Recent rounds of layoffs? 

Look for recent press releases, news stories, feature launches, bad press, or recent pivots. Crunchbase, Google News, and TechCrunch are all good places to find this sort of information. Google is also a great place to learn about any competitors because they’ll usually show up in the search results somehow.

Last but not least, Google the founders, plus the recruiter and hiring manager, if you know their names. Addressing your cover letter to a specific person (rather than a generic “to whom it may concern”) shows effort and attention to detail.

All of this information is perfect to add to your Teal Company Tracker. 

Avoiding cover letter mistakes with a company tracker
Use Teal's Company Tracker to save your research.

View their LinkedIn page. 

Who are they looking for? Click on the current (and past) employees working on the team you’re applying to, and pay attention to the type of people they hire. 

Where did they go to school? What did they study? Where have they worked? Are there common patterns or threads in who they hire? This can help you tailor your LinkedIn profile so more recruiters find you.

3. Using the wrong tone or voice

Concentrate on the personality and tone of not only the job description but also the company’s social media and website copy, and make sure your cover letter mirrors theirs from the get-go. And that starts with how you address your cover letter.

A sterile greeting, like “Dear Sir,” will either make you sound like a bot or use the same cover letter for every job you apply to. On the other hand, an overly casual tone can come across as unprofessional and make a bad first impression. 

It's important to strike the right balance between professionalism and the company's culture.

What to do instead:

Find the right person’s name.

Job descriptions rarely spell out who the hiring manager is by name, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a few hints. 

Do they mention a position this role will report to? 

If so, use LinkedIn's advanced search features to find the name of the hiring manager or department head and address them by name. 

Take stock of the company’s tone and voice. 

Gauge the company's culture from its social media, website, and any available employee reviews to tailor your greeting's formality.

If you do find the hiring manager on LinkedIn, use Crystal Knows to get a complete overview of their personality based on their online presence. 

Avoid assumptions.

If you’re unsure about a person's title or gender identity, opt for neutral greetings like "Dear hiring team" rather than “Dear Sir.” 

4. Coming across generic or impersonal 

Your cover letter is a platform to showcase how you’ll add value to the company, not a personal essay about your career goals. 

While it's important to convey your passion and drive, solely focusing on your needs comes across as self-centered. Remember, the company is looking for someone who can help them achieve their goals.

What to do instead:

Consider what the recruiter wants to read, not just what you want to say.

Put yourself in a recruiter’s shoes. What information do you think would make them salivate over you after reading your cover letter? 

Here’s a list of questions to ask yourself to jumpstart your brainstorming process.

  • Do you have experience solving problems similar to the company’s current ones?
  • Do you have a unique skill that will help the company solve its problems?
  • Do you have experience, a genuine interest in, or knowledge about the company’s industry?
  • Do you have unique insights into their audience segments? Have you spoken to this audience before?
  • What values and beliefs do you share with the company? 
  • How will your particular work style mesh well with the current company culture? 
  • What unique skill set do you offer the current team doesn’t already have? 
  • Do you have any advice on what tools the company might benefit from or any recent industry trends they could capitalize on? 
  • What teams have you collaborated with cross-functionally before? Will you be working with the same types of teams and skill sets as your previous employer?
  • What are the company’s short- and long-term goals? Discuss your relevant work experiences that will help them reach theirs. 

Quantify your achievements. 

Once you have some ideas about how your past experience maps back to the job description, it’s time to prove it. You do that by quantifying your achievements. 

What type of numbers impress hiring managers? Here’s a list of a few.

  • Financial: If you can tie your achievements directly to company revenue or anything to do with money, that’s impressive. 
  • People: How many people have you managed in the past? How many clients have you served? 
  • Time: Productivity is everything at work. Elaborate on how long something took you to complete. You can also quantify your tenure or experience in the industry.
  • Online presence: Have you written for impressive publications? How many? For how long? Do you have a lot of followers on a specific platform? How many? What’s your engagement rate? 

Write a benefit-driven narrative.

All this means is frame your experience in terms of how you benefited the companies you worked for in the past. 

5. Not highlighting your most relevant skills

Your resume and cover letter serve distinct purposes. 

While your resume offers a concise overview of your skills and experiences, learning how to write a general cover letter means offering context by highlighting specific achievements and showcasing your personality. 

Rehashing your resume in your cover letter is a missed opportunity to provide a richer narrative about how you could bring value to the organization and explicitly connect the dots for employers. 

What to do instead: 

Write about your interest in the specific position and company. 

Duplicating your resume in your cover letter is unnecessary and can make your cover letter feel generic.

One way to avoid this mistake is to open your cover letter by explaining why you’re interested in this specific position at this specific company and then connect it back to your experience and personal brand. 

Address potential objections in your cover letter. 

It’s always better to be upfront about potential reasons you may have a career gap in your resume or if you were affected by a layoff recently.  

Maybe you have a big gap in your career history, or maybe you made a lateral jump to a new career. Your cover letter is the perfect place to address potential “red flags” before they become red in recruiters’ eyes. 

6. Overlooking personalization

It's easy to find cover letter templates and generic cover letters online. However, using a one-size-fits-all approach can make your application indistinguishable from others. 

Personalization, on the other hand, demonstrates effort, genuine interest, and a deeper understanding of the role.

What to do instead: 

Look for inspiration.

Before you write your cover letter, draw inspiration from other sources. Pull details from a variety of cover letter examples to create your unique version. 

Incorporate job posting language.

Use keywords and phrases from the job posting to show how their needs align with your skills and experience. 

The Teal AI Resume Builder and Job Application Tracker pull the top keywords from any job description so you can align your content every time you hit apply.

Cover letter mistakes, not using keywords
Use the right keywords to align your cover letter with every role.

7. Having the wrong length

A cover letter should be concise but still comprehensive. An overly lengthy letter that tells your entire life story can overwhelm the reader, making them lose interest. 

On the other hand, a short cover letter must be written in a precise way so it doesn’t seem rushed. Striking the right balance is key to maintaining the reader's interest and covering all necessary information.

What to do instead:

Are there length requirements?

Does the job description mention how long your cover letter should be (at minimum and at maximum)? 

Stick to best practices.:

There are a few common best practices when it comes to cover letter length

  1. A cover letter should take up at least half or a whole page, but not more.
  2. Aim for 250-400 words.  
  3. Shorter is better.

Embrace white space.

Use bullet points, subheadings, and short paragraphs to break up walls of text. This will make it more enjoyable to read and, therefore, ensure it gets read. 

End with a call-to-action (CTA). 

Conclude with a CTA that prompts the recruiter to schedule an interview or get in touch with you ASAP. 

8. Providing too much detail

While it's good to be thorough, there's a fine line between providing sufficient details and overwhelming the reader. 

The goal of your cover letter is to pique the employer's interest, prompting them to delve deeper into your resume—not to provide a full account of your entire professional history.

What to do instead:

Prioritize relevant details.

Focus on experiences and achievements directly related to the job you're applying to.

Use hyperlinks.

If you refer to specific projects or portfolios, use hyperlinks to direct readers to more information. This keeps the cover letter concise while providing more details for interested employers.

Avoid jargon.

Unless mentioned in the job description, avoid jargon or overly technical language. Keep it accessible.

Avoid cover letter mistakes with Teal

Navigating the job market can be challenging, but a solid cover letter can help you make a good impression on potential employers—and it starts with avoiding common cover letter mistakes. 

With Teal by your side, writing an effective cover letter that ticks all the boxes is a breeze. 

Teal offers AI cover letter generation to help you customize every letter and stand out.

Ready to take cover letter creation to the next level? Sign up for Teal for free.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I tailor my cover letter to a specific job without sounding insincere?

To tailor your cover letter genuinely, research the company and position to understand their values and needs. Use this insight to highlight experiences and skills that align with their culture and the job requirements. Be honest about your enthusiasm for the role and explain why you're a great fit, using concrete examples to back up your claims.

What is the ideal length for a cover letter to avoid being too verbose or too brief?

The ideal length for a cover letter is typically one page, with three to four concise paragraphs. Start with a strong introduction, followed by one or two paragraphs detailing your qualifications and fit for the role, and conclude with a compelling closing statement. Keep it focused and relevant to the job you're applying for.

Is it a mistake to reuse the same cover letter for multiple job applications?

Yes, using a generic cover letter for multiple applications is a common mistake. Each cover letter should be customized for the specific job and company to show that you've done your homework and are genuinely interested in the position. Personalization demonstrates your dedication and can significantly increase your chances of getting noticed.

Lauren Holliday

Lauren Holliday writes about marketing, careers and anything else that excites her. Her words and ideas have been featured in places like The Economist, Fortune, The Muse, Inc, Business Insider and many more.

We help you find
the career dream.