While many job applications have the word “optional” next to the field that asks for a cover letter, it shouldn’t be overlooked. After all, a cover letter is intended to show you off and captivate a hiring manager, kind of like a movie trailer. It’s meant to tease and entice the recruiter or hiring manager to keep reading and be so interested in you that they simply cannot put down your resume. Think: personable and professional.
Some of the best cover letters tell interesting stories about the candidate and help them to be seen as a good culture fit for a company. “Recruiters always remember the personal side of cover letters—this is when you become more than just another applicant,” says career expert Heather Huhman. “They connect your experiences with your name because you’re giving them another dimension of you, sharing what makes you unique.”
Given the importance of a cover letter, you cannot afford to blow it. Once you’ve got a working draft, it’s time to grab your red pen. Here are 15 words and phrases that are simply dragging your cover letter down. Cut ‘em! Take the expert advice below to craft the best cover letter possible and let your personality, not robotic prose, shine through.
1. “To Whom It May Concern”
Generic salutations, while professional, can be a bit sterile. Do a little digging to find the name of the hiring manager or the recruiter. “Let’s say you discover an opening for an electrical engineer position at an engineering organization’s website. The position description indicates the employee will report to the lead electrical engineer. You decide (initially) to bypass the company’s automated application system so you can customize your communications,” advises Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, master resume writer. “You sail over to LinkedIn and begin researching. Use the advanced search feature and type in ‘name of company’ for the company name, ‘lead electrical engineer’ for keywords and ‘64152’ for a zip code for greater Kansas City (where the company headquarters and this position are located) and click enter. Your results will appear.”
2. “Thinking outside of the box”
Recruiters read thousands of cover letters and resumes. It’s their job. So try hard to make reading your cover letter a treat. Career coach Angela Copeland says, “more specifically, stay away from phrases that are known to annoy hiring managers, such as ‘heavy lifting’ or ‘think outside the box’ or ‘game-changer.’” Be creative instead of being trendy.
3. “I’m not sure if you know”
“When it comes to today’s job search process, another thing to remember is your online footprint,” says Copeland. Phrases like this one underestimate a recruiter’s ability to Google and may come across as naive. HR professionals and recruiters do their due diligence on you. Trust us, they know. “In a way, your Google search results are a lot like the modern day cover letter. After an employer reads your cover letter, they will also Google you. Beat them to the punch and Google yourself. Be sure you’re comfortable with the information that shows up on the first two pages of the Google search results. Look through social media, photos, and any other websites that show up when you search for yourself.”
4. Insider Jargon
“Job seekers should try to minimize phrases that are very industry-specific, especially if they’re switching industries,” advises Copeland. “Although these phrases may sound impressive within one industry, they will most likely confuse your hiring manager in the new industry you want to switch to.”
21 Words To Never Include In Your Resume
5. Claims Without Evidence
Instead of simply saying you’re good at what you do, Huhman advises providing a valuable anecdote. “Let’s say you’re applying for a marketing director position. Among other aspects in the description, the job requires several years of marketing experience, a deep knowledge of lead generation, and strong communication skills. Describe how, in your previous role as a marketing manager, you ran several campaigns for your clients and exceeded their expectations of lead generation (with specific numbers, if possible), and how you also trained and mentored new associates on how to manage their own accounts, which improved client retention rates.” In other words, show how effective you have been in the past. “Your anecdote is accomplishing a lot at once—it’s demonstrating one of your top hard skills, lead nurturing, and showcasing how you can collaborate with trainees, communicate effectively, and educate new employees on processes and client relations,” says Huhman. “You’re proving that you can meet the communication standards and marketing knowledge they’re seeking.”
Cut the millennial speak. “You shouldn’t just say that you want the job or that you love your industry. You have to show your passion,” says Huhman. “Share why your career path best suits you and how your love for your work drives and motivates you. For example, answer some questions about what made you want to enter the field, how your personality helps you succeed, and what past experiences influenced your career decisions.”
“Embellishing in a cover letter is one way to set yourself up for letting down your future employer once you’ve been hired,” warns Huhman. Steer clear of touting skills you don’t really possess or overselling your impact on a key project at your current employer. “The best case scenario is that lying on a cover letter creates uncomfortable situations. Worst case scenario? [You’ll lose the] job because [you are] not the candidate they were looking for.”
“When you’re looking for a job, do your best to bring your authentic self to the table. As the old saying goes, people hire people. Often, you’re hired because the hiring manager likes you – not just because you can do the work,” says Copeland. “Nobody likes insincere flattery. It leaves an impression that you aren’t authentic and therefore can’t be trusted. In business, especially in an employee/employer relationship, trust is paramount. Avoid being insincere, and focus on building a true relationship with your future hiring manager.”
9. “Please feel free”
Ending your cover letter with a clear call-to-action is key, but instead of being gentle, be direct. Show your confidence and prove to the recruiter that you know you wrote a compelling cover letter by wrapping up with a more self-assured request for an in-person interview or phone screen.
“Get away from stuffing cover letters full of clichéd phrases and think clear, honest, and impactful. Think in terms of telling a story,” says resume expert Anish Majumdar. “You’re not a dynamic, agile leader who can deliver rapid marketing and biz dev ROI in rapidly-changing environments.” Instead, you are someone who thrives on helping companies “more fully realize their vision, and have some amazing successes on the marketing and business development front that you’d like to discuss.”
9 Things to Never Say in a Salary Negotiation
Instead of tiptoeing around the impact you’ve had at your current company with words like “significant,” “measurable,” or “huge,” get specific. Nicole Cox, Chief Recruitment Officer at national recruiting firm Decision Toolbox, advises job seekers to, “substantiate your accomplishments with numbers. Some recruiters prefer to see actual numbers (such as ‘cut manufacturing costs by $500,000’), while others prefer percentages (‘cut manufacturing costs by 15 percent’). Either way, provide enough context to show the impact. If your objective was to cut manufacturing costs by 10 percent, make it clear that you exceeded the goal.”
12. “Really, truly, deeply”
Flowery language and excessive adverbs can come off as insincere. “Don’t get me wrong, you need to share your accomplishments in your cover letter. Nobody else will do it for you. But, you want to come across as confident, not arrogant,” says Copeland. “Fluffy jargon will risk turning off the hiring manager.”
13. Cut, Copy & Paste
Resist the temptation to write a cover letter that regurgitates what you’ve outlined in your resume. Instead, recognize the opportunity that a cover letter presents. “Use the cover letter as an opportunity to highlight the parts of your resume that align to the job,” says Copeland. “And, add things you don’t normally include in your resume that are relevant to the work. For example, I once coached a job seeker who was a university administrator. He was interested to work for a large hotel chain. Although he didn’t have direct hotel experience, his hobbies included both real estate investing and managing a fitness franchise location. This information was critical to him landing a job with the large hotel company.”
14. “Self-Starter,” “Detail-Oriented,” and “Forward-Thinker”
These are what’s known as “frequent offenders” amongst cover letter and resume experts. They are overused and carry little weight these days. “Treat a cover letter as a chance to make a human connection, not a formality,” says Majumdar. “What gets you excited about this job? What have you been up to recently that they’d find interesting? What should they know about you that they couldn’t discern by reading your resume? All great points to touch on in this letter.”
15. Synonyms Out of A Thesaurus
While it may be tempting to head to thesaurus.com to add a few high-brow words and smart-sounding phrases, resist the temptation. Be yourself. Be honest. “This is a prime opportunity to showcase skills,” says Majumdar. Words like “change,” “execute,” “communicates,” and “relationship building” will all get the job done effectively when paired with strong anecdotes and authenticity.
Smart tips to help you format and write a cover letter
Struggling to write a cover letter that will catch an employer's attention? We've got tips to help you show your best self—and a sample you can use to get started.
There's nothing scary about writing a cover letter.
You've found the perfect job, hit the "apply" button, and started the process with your engines revved and ready. But wait! Slam the brakes! They want a cover letter. Oh no.
Don't let this request derail you. Here's everything you need to know to write a letter that truly sells your skills. Plus, scroll down to see a sample cover letter you can use to craft your own.
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a one-page document that, along with your resume, is sent with your job application. A cover letter is your chance to tell a potential employer why you’re the perfect person for the position and how your skills and expertise can add value to the company. The letter should be professional but personable, and serve as a sort of introduction.
Do I need to send a cover letter?
A lot of job seekers today wonder if a cover letter is still appropriate to send with your resume—and the answer is yes! Even if an employer doesn’t ask for a cover letter, it couldn’t hurt to send one. In fact, it’s can help you get someone's attention in a different way, and it can be a great way to display your enthusiasm for the job and company.
What are the basic elements of a cover letter?
- Greeting: Address your cover letter to the proper person.
- Opening: Write a personable, inviting opening paragraph that notes how your skills are a perfect fit to the job and displays your enthusiasm.
- Hook: Highlight your past achievements as they relate to the job you're applying for.
- Skills: Emphasize additional relevant skills, such as computer languages or certifications.
- Close: Briefly recap your strengths as a candidate, and include your contact information.
Cover letter tips
1. Parrot the keywords: Just like with your resume, your cover letters should be customized for each job you apply to. Start by reviewing the job description. In it, you will find important keywords that let you know what kind of employee the company is hoping to find. Use these same keywords throughout your cover letter.
2. Adapt for the company: Each version of your cover letter should talk about how your skills will benefit the particular company that you want to work for. You want to target the company’s needs—not your own. Demonstrate how you could help them achieve their goals. Remember: You're selling yourself in a resume and a cover letter, but the employer has to want to buy.
3. Show you "get" them: Your cover letter should demonstrate that you have done some research into what the organization's pain points are. Presenting yourself as a solution to a hiring manager’s problem can help your cover letter take the right tone. If you’re applying to an administrative position, be sure to mention your time-management skills; if you’re an IT professional, include your expertise in improving efficiency. Always ask yourself: How can I help this company?
4. Proofread. Don’t assume spell check will catch every mistake (it won’t). Slowly review your cover letter to make sure everything reads properly. Have someone else read your cover letter for backup.
Need even more confidence before you start your cover letter? Below are some additional cover letter tips you could reference—or keep scrolling for a cover letter sample:
Cover letter mistakes you should avoid: From overusing “I” to being too vague, there are a bunch of pitfalls that can trip you up. Don’t let them!
Cover letter format and advice tips: Learn how to set up your cover letter and what each section should include.
Cover letter tips for new grads: You might lack real-world work experience, but your cover letter can be chock-full of activities that demonstrate your potential to succeed.
Cover letter tips for technology professionals: The ease of applying to online jobs has led many IT professionals to skip sending a cover letter, but that’s a mistake.
Cover letter tips for finance professionals: If you’re searching for a finance job or want to be prepared just in case, you will need a dynamic cover letter to grab the hiring managers’ attention.
Tips for better email cover letters: If you're emailing a resume, your cover letter will deliver the first impression. These eight tips will help you craft a better email cover letter.
Cover letter sample
Check out the sample cover letter below (or download the template as a Word doc) to get some inspiration to craft your own. And we've also got you covered if you're looking for a cover letter in a specific industry.
Once you've finished your cover letter, consider joining Monster—you can upload and store up to five cover letters and resumes, so that you can apply for jobs on our site in a snap!
Ms. Rhonda West
Customer Service Manager
123 Corporate Blvd.
Sometown, CO 50802
Re: Customer Service Representative Opening (Ref. ID: CS300-Denver)
Dear Ms. West:
I was excited to see your opening for a customer service rep, and I hope to be invited for an interview.
My background includes serving as a customer service associate within both call-center and retail environments. Most recently, I worked on the customer service desk for Discount-Mart, where my responsibilities included handling customer merchandise returns, issuing refunds/store credits, flagging damaged merchandise for shipment back to vendors and providing back-up cashiering during busy periods.
Previously, I worked within two high-volume customer-support call centers for a major telecommunications carrier and a satellite television services provider. In these positions, I demonstrated the ability to resolve a variety of issues and complaints (such as billing disputes, service interruptions or cutoffs, repair technician delays/no-shows and equipment malfunctions). I consistently met my call-volume goals, handling an average of 56 to 60 calls per day.
In addition to this experience, I gained considerable customer service skills during my part-time employment as a waitress and restaurant hostess while in high school.
I also bring to the table strong computer proficiencies in MS Word, MS Excel and CRM database applications and a year of college (business major). Please see the accompanying resume for details of my experience and education.
I am confident that I can offer you the customer service, communication and problem-solving skills you are seeking. Feel free to call me at 555-555-5555 (home) or 555-555-5500 (cell) to arrange an interview. Thank you for your time—I look forward to learning more about this opportunity!