The 7 Deadly Sins of Cover Letter Writing

The next letter you receive should be a formal job offer, not a rejection form.

You can gain an edge with your cover letter.
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Before finalizing your letter, make sure you've touched on how you, as a job candidate, will help the company achieve its mission. And refer to the job description to explain what qualifications you have to best do the job as the duties have been explained. Also be sure to follow the directions as specified in the posting. Don't send a Microsoft Word copy of your letter if you were asked to send a PDF attachment.

When in doubt: This is a cover letter, not a Mad Libs puzzle. Read two of your letters back to back to compare your writing style. If you've just cut and pasted in various action words, you're not doing enough.

4. If you're bringing up something new and different from your resume, you'll appear forgetful and ... something or other. Don't use your cover letter as an explanation of issues you didn't address on your resume, such as not having a college degree, or your two-year employment gap. "I think you have to respect the short attention spans and busy lives of people," Kursmark says. "First of all, a lot of people aren't going to read a cover letter. You have a challenge if it's something important [that you need to explain], but I wouldn't put it in the cover letter."

When in doubt: You'll need to play offense in your activities and when writing your resume, not defense when sending your cover letter. For example, fill an employment gap with career-related volunteer work that you can add to your resume.

5. If you're too wordy, you're probably going to bore the reader, leading them to put your letter in the trash bin, and then... You get the point. Keep it short and simple. A two-page resume is acceptable based on qualifications and level of experience. But the two-page cover letter? Verboten. In fact, you're entering the danger zone if your letter reaches a full page. "Now everything is sent by email, and employers are looking at cover letters on their smartphones and tablets. You don't want to give them too much information too early in the process," Kursmark notes.

When in doubt: Kursmark suggests sticking to a couple of paragraphs, and maybe including a few eye-friendly bullet points, but that's it.

6. If you're using big, outdated SAT words, you'll appear supercilious. Do you actually know anyone who uses the words "bathetic," "perspicacious," and "supernumerary?" Neither does your hiring manager. Save those antics for Scrabble—your manner of speech will convey your intelligence more than the number of syllables per word. "Be crisp and clear and use short words and sentences," Kursmark says. "You don't actually impress people by using $5 words. Especially if you misuse them."

When in doubt: If you're using Microsoft Word to compose cover letters, you can adjust your spell-check preferences to also "Show readability statistics." This tool will estimate the grade level of the writing in your document. Kursmark recommends sticking to a sixth- or seventh-grade writing level.

[See 10 Reasons Your Resume Isn't Getting You Interviews.]

7. If you're too folksy, then no one will take you seriously, dude. Don't overcompensate on the above-mentioned tip by using too much colloquial speech. The purpose of your cover letter is to help you land a job, not arrange weekend plans with your peeps. "At any stage when applying for a job, whether it's in writing your resume and cover letter, or determining your personal appearance for an interview, you need to be on your absolute best professional behavior," Kursmark advises. "You have to show that you're making an effort. The same thing goes for your correspondence."

When in doubt: If you wouldn't use certain phrases of speech or words with your parents or clergy, they're probably not appropriate for an employer.