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What Not to Include in a Cover Letter

By Alison Doyle, Career Expert



A cover letter is an important part of your job application. In some cases, employers require a cover letter to be submitted with your resume. In others, a cover letter is optional or not required.

It’s always a good idea to provide a cover letter if you have the option. A well-written cover letter gives you the opportunity to frame your background so that employers draw the right conclusions about your qualifications as they review your resume.

Your cover letter can make the difference between getting selected for an interview – or not.

Here are 15 things not to include in your cover letter:

Any Spelling or Grammar Errors

Your cover letter is viewed as a sample of your ability as a writer and evidence of your attention to detail. Even a minor typo or error can knock you out of contention for the job.

Overly Long Paragraphs

Employers will skip over your cover letter and move right to your resume if it is too difficult to read. Each paragraph of your letter should include 5 - 6 lines of text with no more than three sentences in each.

The Wrong Company Name or the Wrong Name of the Contact Person

This is a tip-off that you are mass producing your documents and may lack attention to detail. Nobody likes it when they are called by the wrong name.

Anything That Is Untrue

Facts can be checked, and lies are grounds for rescinding offers and dismissing employees. I’ve heard from job seekers who were in a panic because they stretched the truth or outright lied in their cover letter or resume, and didn’t know how to rectify it. You don’t want to be one of those people.

Salary Requirements or Expectations

Don't include salary requirements or expectations unless directed to do so by the employer. It’s important to demonstrate to the employer your interest in the job itself and not make it seem like money is your primary motivation. It’s always wise to let the employer mention salary first if possible.

Any Negative Comments About a Current or Past Employer

Avoid including any negative comments about your current or previous employer as part of why you are looking for work. Employers tend to view such comments as an indication of possible attitude or performance problems.

Information Not Related to the Job

Don’t include any text that is not directly related to your assets for the position or why it appeals to you. Empty language can distract the employer from your core messages.

Personal Information

The employer doesn't need to know you want this job because of personal reasons. Keep your focus on the professional reasons you'd love to be hired, and keep the personal ones to yourself.

Any Portrayal of the Position as a Stepping Stone

Most employers will be looking primarily for someone who is motivated to do the job that they are advertising for a reasonable length of time.

Mentioning future advancement can lead them to believe you would not be satisfied doing that job for long. The exception, of course, would be if the employer has referenced the issue.

What You Want

Don’t mention what you want to get out of the job or the company. The precious space in your cover letter should focus on what you have to offer the employer.

What You Don't Want

Don't mention anything you don't like about the job, the schedule, the salary or anything else. Save your thoughts for when you're offered a job and in a position to negotiate.

Qualifications You Don’t Have

Addressing what might be missing in your candidacy with statements like "Despite my lack of sales experience...” is not a good idea. Don't draw attention to your limitations as a candidate. Keep the focus on your credentials and how they will enable you to get the job done.

Explanations for Leaving Past Jobs Which Sound Like Excuses

Any excuses may needlessly direct attention to less positive chapters in your work history. Pointing out that you were recruited for a better job is fine

Excessive Modesty or Overly Flattering Language

You need to convey positives in your letter but do so in a matter of fact way. Speak about accomplishments and results, but avoid using adjectives to describe yourself which make it seem like you are arrogant or conceited.

Overwhelming Interest

Excessive interest can hint of desperation or undercut your leverage for salary negotiation. You’re pitching your candidacy, not begging for an interview.