Most job postings receive hundreds of applications, and as a result, recruiters and hiring managers typically spend less than 10 seconds reviewing an application during the initial screening round. With such limited time constraints, it might seem like your cover letter is their lowest priority—but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, your written materials are pivotal for creating a positive first impression, explaining your core competencies, and supporting your individual brand. It should introduce you to the reader and make them want to know you better. Hiring managers will likely also refer to your cover letter and resume again as they approach a decision, and, when they do, these documents must reinforce your candidacy.
To make your cover letter as effective as possible, consider the following mistakes that are found in almost every free online template.
6 of the Most Common Free Online Cover Letter Mistakes
1. Outdated Language
Certain phrases have fallen out of popular use, including, for example, “To whom it may concern” and “Dear Sir/Madam.” Yet we still see this stilted language used in online free cover letter examples.
Correction: Address the cover letter to an individual, department, or the “hiring team.” If you’re applying to a large organization and the position is publicly posted, try calling the recruitment office to learn who the hiring manager is and understand the application review process.
2. Generic Information
If you use the same cover letter for dozens of applications, reviewers will recognize the cookie-cutter approach, and may suspect you’ve simply filled in a free cover letter template.
Correction: The cover letter is an opportunity to build a case for cultural fit. Tailor the document to the organization and their guiding mission. Search the company’s website and job description and look for the most important keywords and incorporate them into your draft. This will help your application rank highly with applicant tracking system (ATS) software, and it aligns your employee brand with the company’s goals.
Recruiters and hiring managers review most applications on a screen—not on paper—which means you should optimize your application for digital formatting. Most free cover letter examples that we’ve seen avoid any digitally optimized assets, which is a missed opportunity for you as an applicant.
Correction: Use links to direct the reader to your digital assets (for example: an online portfolio or website) within the body of your cover letter. If you have well-established social media pages or publications that are relevant, consider adding these links as well, either in the body of the text or as a separate line with your contact information.
Most companies use ATS to import data from applications, which means the formatting on your page isn’t critical as long as it’s legible. Err on the side of caution and use a modern-looking template and standard margins to create a positive first impression. A sans-serif font like Arial or Cambria is cleaner and easier to read on a screen than a serif font like Garamond, which feature decorate “tails” and embellishments.
How to brand yourself as an executive—not a manager.
You don’t need to include your entire work history in your cover letter—this can seem overwhelming and unfocused.
Correction: Only cover information that’s relevant to the role to which you’re applying, and focus on your accomplishments instead of listing your earlier job responsibilities. Specifically, look for examples of you work that generated revenue, streamlined billing, automated processes, or reduced expenses. If the free cover letter example you’re using for inspiration is overly wordy and factual, it’s not a good guideline.
5. Missing Call to Action
As with any piece of persuasive writing, your cover letter should include a clear call to action at the end. We’ve noticed that a lot of free cover letter examples simply list the job history and end abruptly, without a conclusion or call to action.
Correction: At the end of the last paragraph, it’s customary to include a sentence about the next steps. For example: “I look forward to discussing my candidacy further and [insert specific information about the role]”. In this context, it’s best to be assertive and not use words like “hope,” “want,” etc.
6. Casual Complimentary Closing
When you sign off your letter, avoid familiar phrases like “Cheers” or “Warm regards.”
Correction: The following phrases are acceptable complimentary closings in professional settings:
- Thank you
Cover letters are important for every industry, particularly for senior-level roles that require communication skills and strategic public positioning. If you’re applying to an executive- or senior-level role, Ivy Exec can help you write a cover letter and resume that portrays your candidacy in the best possible light. To learn more, work one-on-one with an executive coach and check out our library of free job search-related content.
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