7 Cover Letter No-Nos

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by Alex A. Kecskes
The all-important cover letter. Write it right and you could get an interview. Write it wrong and you can kiss the interview—and the job—bye-bye. What not to include as an interviewee:


  1. Too Long or Too Short. A decent cover letter should be between 200 to 250 words. It’s where you dovetail your experience with the specific needs of the employer. The key is to put in one or two past experience details--backed by numbers--that sell your ability to do the job.
  2. Personal Anecdotes. Save the “climbing Mt. Everest” stories for the face-to-face interview. Employers don’t have the time to wade through your marathon runner stories, your river rafting exploits, or how you saved your best friend from that grizzly in the woods. Stay focused on your heroic work achievements.
  3. “Canned Phraseology.” If you use a cover letter template or take notes from a career coach, vary the wording and make the letter uniquely yours. Stay away from “canned” retread opening sentences like 'Enclosed is my resume, which highlights the experience, skills and education I believe you’re looking for in a candidate. Instead, lead off with something you learned about the company. It’s amazing all the details you can find about a company on the Internet.
  4. No Negatives, No Faults. Employers may ask for these in a face-to-face interview, but never volunteer any weaknesses in a cover letter.
  5. Hubris. The cover letter is no place to be cocky (neither is the interview). So avoid superlatives and stick to the facts. Don’t embellish. Sell them on your ability to handle all aspects of the job. Write as if your best friend will be reading the letter, someone who knows when you’re doing a “snow job.”
  6. Right Cover Letter, Wrong Company. It’s a common mistake make by thousands of applicants, especially in these tough times when everyone is shot-gunning multiple applications to dozens of companies. Double check every cover letter and make sure it’s to the right prospective employer.
  7. No Humor. Unless you’re a pro who used to do standup—and you’re applying for a job as a joke writer or copywriter for humorous commercials--leave out the jokes and any attempts to be funny.
For an added perspective, check out this video:
Got any thoughts on cover letter no-nos? Feel free to share them in the comments section.
Alex A. Kecskes has written hundreds of published articles on health/fitness, "green" issues, TV/film entertainment, restaurant reviews and many other topics. As a former Andy/Belding/One Show ad agency copywriter, he also writes web content, ads, brochures, sales letters, mailers and scripts for national B2B and B2C clients. Please see more of his blogs and view additional job postings on Nexxt.

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  • David B.
    David B.

    Over the years, I jumped through a lot of hoops to get a lot of jobs, most of which I then did very well. It's time to start our own businesses and quit jumping through hoops for people who expect you to give them 2 weeks notice when you are ready to change jobs, but who never give you two weeks notice that you are being terminated. The hiring managers do not read the cover letters They do not feel they have time. They take a short cut to hire the people they like and ignore the many other deserving candidates. I have worked with so many lazy people over the years and wondered why they were not "motivated" like me. Sound like sour grapes? Not really. I've had a good life as far as jobs go and am financially secure, some would say I'm wealthy. I am grateful for the opportunities I've had and my best days are ahead of me, not behind. I've been married to a professional woman for 38 years and all our adult children are gainfully and successfully employed. I'm just sharing the sad state of industry in America, and how the "Peter Principle" fails to reward initiative and creativity while fostering mediocrity. It's scary to think that we compete with others to write the best cover letter like contestants on American Idol trying to gain the respect of Simon Cowell. What's next, beauty shops offering makeovers so you will dazzle at the interview?

  • Alan N.
    Alan N.

    I went to an interview for HW Design Engineer and right middle of the interview the hiring manager said I want you to manage the group too and he asked me if I like to do that. But I have never been a manager and did not want to be a manager after going back and forth and twisting my words I sincerely thanked the manager and said no. At the end of the day he refused to offer me a job. In his feedback to me he mentioned that I did not want to grow, and I wrote back.. Mr.xxx none of the lines in the job description is talking about management and none of the lines in my resume is saying that I'm looking for Management position... hello, hello.


    I have learned that honing the detailing true to what you say on your cover letter gets you in the door but doesn't guarantee the job. Always make sure you're truthful when talking about yourself and experiences even if you quit or were fired. The truth will out itself and you'll find that people appreciate your candor and might be a plus in getting hired.

  • Karen Riney
    Karen Riney
    This was worthwhile information! Thank you!
  • Shaliysa Simril
    Shaliysa Simril
    I really feel these no gos will help me later.
  •  Nakisha Covington
    Nakisha Covington
    I think would be great!
  • Janelle Bouda
    Janelle Bouda
    Hello. I am facilitating a Resume Development Workshop and I want to ask you for permission in discussing your ideas about Cover Letter Writing. Is it okay? I will definitely tell people that it is your facts and you wrote the article. Thanks !
  • Russell Wyatt
    Russell Wyatt
    Great advice for cover letters although professional companies charge a fee have a little more edge in producing far better results than the common layperson
    Have read this article and like everything I read so far. I just wish you guys do a resume and cover letter service. have been in the job market for over a year and about giving up. I can use a professional service  in this area.
    Great information on tips to a better cover letter.
    I think you should hire me. My cover letter is perfect.
  •  Nicolette Kolar
    Nicolette Kolar
    Very helpful.
  • Kaveh Nowrouzi
    Kaveh Nowrouzi
    Like the many tips you have here, I will use them to see if it would make the difference.Thank you
  • Izora Kelsey
    Izora Kelsey
    Thank you for the update.  I am trying to return to work, after retiring three years ago.
  • Janele Dyer
    Janele Dyer
    I think these tips help immensely. It also helps if you think of a cover letter as an explanation of the resume not a detail description but a sort of highlight or preview, if you will, of your strong points. The resume is the professional outline and the cover letter is the introduction and a bit of your personality. It should be professional yet personal to the point that it makes the employer want to meet you.
  • Susie Cannon
    Susie Cannon
    Great points!  Thank you.
  • Karen J Buckley
    Karen J Buckley
    Something I know today that I didn't  know yesterday.  That is always a good thing.    Very useful and important information.  Thank you.
  • Kater Danford
    Kater Danford
    Thank you Crystal, Your tips are very helpful, thank you for all the specifics.
  • Ramona Jackson
    Ramona Jackson
    Thank you for the information as I did not include the majority of these tips in my cover letter, but I will begin to do so from this point going forward. Again, thank you for these insights into writing a winning cover letter to get me noticed by prospective employers.
  • Dianne Thomas
    Dianne Thomas
    I really enjoyed reading the points that will make the employer look at it and not toss it in the trash...thanks!!
  • Mahlon Conner
    Mahlon Conner
    Should have given a written example for each tip given.
  • Kevin Stewart
    Kevin Stewart
    Every little bit helps. I feel informed, enlightened, and educated.
  • Athena Porter
    Athena Porter
    The 10 tip are great.  In fact, with the exception of a follow-up phone call or post card, I have used these tips.  However, I have not been called in for interviews.  In a perfect world these 10 tips should work.  However, this isn't  perfect world.
  • Luther Hollums
    Luther Hollums
    This is very sound advice! My recent cover letters are pathetic compared to your instructions...I am willing to learn, hoping that will lead to success in my job search.
  • Erkegali
    Ya learn something new eevrdyay. It's true I guess!

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